First, "more than one" and "many" are acceptable meanings for "multiple."

1 : consisting of, including, or involving more than one: multiple births, multiple choices

2 : MANY, MANIFOLD multiple achievements: He suffered multiple injuries in the accident.

We could stop there, but we can do better. "Multiple," many authorities and kibitzers contend, is best used to describe separation, repetition, or division from a whole. Most of Merriam-Webster's definition carry this idea of repetition. Michael Kandel of the MLA agrees`:

But in my view multiple is often not a good synonym for many, meaning “a large number,” because multiple has traditionally had a narrower sense: that many elements or parts belong to or are involved in one thing or one event.

A deft writer can express herself vividly by precisely using "multiple" when it's called for. It's correct to use "multiple" to mean "more than one," but I think it's less than industrious.

In my experience, in the past twenty years writers have come to use "multiple" as a fancier, more authoritative way to say "many." Kandel suggests that this usage fits squarely into Bryan Garner's definition of jargon: use the longer word when the shorter one will do.

In a stale thread in English Forward, more than a few (and here I might well say "multiple," though "many" or "a lot" is fine) commenters vent on the bloated use of "multiple." One mirrors the prescriptive, grumpy old man in me, at least on this topic:

I am getting increasingly irritated by the indiscriminate use of the word "multiple" when a few, many or several will do: multiple gun shots; multiple perpetrators; multiple bruises, etc. It has taken over in the media because it sounds more important.

(I'm not sure, but English Forward appears to be British.)


The spokesperson said that the pursuit lasted for more than two hours and resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers, pedestrians and the NYPD. —Victoria Murphy, Town & Country, 18 May 2023

Read many. The idea here is that the pursuit caused numerous accidents, not repeated or similar.

Poets should aim for each reader to have multiple ways to navigate a poem. —Elizabeth Myong, Dallas News, 18 May 2023

Ok with multiple. One people engendering different interpretations.

McKean said the food truck drew patrons from multiple bars in the area despite El Chila's best efforts to clear the parking lot. —The Indianapolis Star, 17 May 2023

Clearly many. It might be good food after a night of drinking, but the only point is that there are a lot of drunks, not that they are varied or distinct.

  • 1
    A Reddit discussion from 2021 offers a discussion about my question - the best connotation of "multiple." The poster says a high-school English teacher told him (don't all the prescriptives start this way?) that it was grammatically incorrect to 'use the word “multiple” to mean “several” or “many” or “numerous”, say, people in a group, or M&Ms in a bag, it was incorrect. Multiple was only correct to describe something like “multiple births” as in twins or triplets.' This is the gist of my post. reddit.com/r/grammar/comments/n1758r/…
    – Roister
    May 21 at 22:09
  • Even more authoritative that Reddit (ha!), MLA also supports a more nuanced use of "multiple" than simply "many." Michael Kandel notes, aptly in my opinion, "multiple has traditionally had a narrower sense: that many elements or parts belong to or are involved in one thing or one event. " He goes on to cite Bryan Garner for the proposition that "multiple" for "many" is "officialese." style.mla.org/many-or-multiple
    – Roister
    May 21 at 22:15
  • I think I have enough to confidently answer my question, but I'd welcome someone who wants to test my conclusion that "multiple" is correct for "more than one," but it's lazy to use it that way. Thanks to the moderators, who prompted me to look a little harder by closing my question.
    – Roister
    May 21 at 22:23
  • 2
    You really need to give sentences -and- intended meanings in which you're hearing 'multiple'. Almost all words have different meanings depending on context. In one context it may be perfect and in another abhorrent. Just saying "Someone said 'multiple' is wrong" underspecified.
    – Mitch
    May 29 at 20:47
  • 1
    @Mitch As you wish. Thanks for a helpful suggestion.
    – Roister
    May 29 at 21:08


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.