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There are certain nouns in English that are plural only and have no singular equivalents. Some such as trousers, scissors, pajamas, pantyhose, shears, binoculars, headphones, etc. can be singularized with pair or set, which could mean that many could be grammatically placed before them.

I have many pairs of trousers.

But not all nouns are like these. Take clothes, goods, thanks, shenanigans, antics for example. While there seem to be quite many citations on Google Books for many clothes, many goods, many thanks, many shenanigans, many antics:

And then I do what any self-respecting New York woman with too many books and too many clothes does when she's frustrated. (So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson)

An IPC is a broad classification that contains many goods or services. (How Many Trademarks Does it Take to Protect a Brand?: The Optimal Number of Trademarks, Branding Strategy and Brand Performance by Mary Sullivan)

Walter's attraction to Hildy was clear through his many antics to regain her affection both during and after their divorce. (Classical Hollywood Comedy by Alan Jenkins)

I'm still not 100% confident that many can be used like this. Is there an authoritative source on how to deal with specifically many and pluralia tantum?

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    You can be 100% confident that many thanks, many clothes and the like are idiomatic and correct. Sep 16, 2022 at 8:09
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    Doesn't it depend on the exact plurale tantum? People have already given you examples of plural-only nouns you can use many with. However, He is suffering from the blues, but not *They are suffering from many blues; And He studied his surroundings carefully, but not *They studied their many surroundings carefully. Sep 16, 2022 at 13:15
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    @PeterShor In those cases it's not related to a mismatch between many and what the OP considers to be "uncountable" plural-only nouns. First, it's the fact that the definite article is part of the idiom the blues. You can't swap the definite article there for another Determiner. Consider * They're suffering from some/several/these/enough blues. The second example only doesn't work because of the pragmatic interpretation you're likely to give to the semantic relations there. They studied the different students in their many different surroundings is fine. Sep 16, 2022 at 14:48
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore: Maybe. But he's suffering from those winter blues and he's suffering from those jailhouse blues sound perfectly fine to me. Sep 16, 2022 at 18:15
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    It's worth pointing out that most of these uses are constructions, idioms, and fixed phrases. The fact is that much and many are far more comfortable in negative contexts, though they're not quite NPIs because they have too many special uses. Sentences like ?*She has much money are clearly awful and don't occur except in discussions like this. I suspect (I haven't looked carefully) that this is what happens when an NPI is either developing or losing its negativity. The availability of a lot, which isn't negative and doesn't distinguish sg from pl, mass from count, undoubtedly helps. Sep 16, 2022 at 21:34

4 Answers 4

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+100

An authoritative source is Quirk et al. (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language.

The part of the book dealing with number has a section (5.77) with the title (Bb) Pluralia tantum ending in -s (page 301). The section lists over sixty such nouns, together with one or more phrases or clauses exemplifying them.

It does not specifically deal with the use of many with such nouns, but it does include many in three exemplifications:

  • Many congratulations on your birthday.
  • Many thanks for...
  • Many troops were sent overseas.

In my estimation a majority of the other words listed in the pluralia tantum section cannot be preceded by many. So no useful generalisation can be applied to such nouns. You can, however, be 100% confident that many can precede some of them.

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    Can you provide two or three examples where the determiner many would be ungrammatical? I can't think of any, unless by adding the countable expression "pairs of" to those singular objects which come into pairs.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 21, 2022 at 8:33
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    @Mari-Lou A. Quirk deals with words like scissors and headphones in a separate section called summation plurals, noting that the most common of these are either Tools and instruments or Articles of dress. As for a pluralia tantum which does not permit many, Quirk lists brains=intelligence. E.g. You need brains to get into Oxford. Another example is looks: ?She is known for her many good looks. Quirk lists the pt word troops as synoymous with soldiers. The singular troup is a collection of soldiers, and is thus countable in the usual way.
    – Shoe
    Sep 21, 2022 at 9:39
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    I've always wondered about these people who have more than one brain! Those examples are pretty interesting. Wouldn't it be nice to have them in your post? (But I'm not sure I agree with Quirk et al (or CGEL) that brains in that sense is either plural or countable, despite its morphology. I'd expect to see "and brains is what I have", not "and brains are what I have", which seems to be saying something different! The same goes for guts etc. "Guts is what you need" v. "Guts are what you need" - everyone needs the latter. My inner jury is out.) Sep 21, 2022 at 10:07
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    @Araucaria. There's a Steve Martin film called The Man with Two Brains, so such people do exist! I take your point about brains, but "Brains are what you need" is more acceptable to me than "Brains is what you need". I may add a few more examples to my answer if OP requests it.
    – Shoe
    Sep 21, 2022 at 10:20
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    @JK2. Yes, that is the problem. In her entry on pluralia tantum in the Cambridge Dictionary of English Grammar Peters states "Some grammarians reserve it (the term 'pluralia tantum') for aggregates or composites like 'arrears, surroundings'; others apply it also to bipartites or other summation plurals (e.g. scissors, trousers)." Note: the brackets in the Peters quote are mine.
    – Shoe
    Sep 25, 2022 at 6:44
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The Original Poster's diligent research has provided us with a clear answer to the main question. Many is used frequently in front of plural only nouns. And, as demonstrated, it's used by respectable published authors in edited books from reputable publishers. This settles the issue decisively.

The subsidiary question, then, is whether there are fetishistic sadomasochists1 who have deemed this a 'rule' of English in the face of all the evidence? Thou shalt not use 'many' in front of plurale tantum! You have been a naughty, naughty published author. Now where is my riding crop? ... The answer to that question is : no. The dogmatists haven't got there yet. Best not start giving them ideas!


1 For the origin of this description see Professor Geoffrey K. Pullum's influential paper published by the Oxford University Press:

Pullum, Geoffrey K. 'Catering to perverts', in Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (ed.), English Usage Guides: History, Advice, Attitudes (Oxford, 2017; online edn, Oxford Academic, 21 Dec. 2017), https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198808206.003.0011, accessed 16 Sept. 2022.

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    I suppose you were forced to use CW seeing as recently comments get deleted without warning and any useful information is lost.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 16, 2022 at 8:09
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    Psst... we know you are here but let's keep pretending you're not :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 16, 2022 at 8:10
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    I don't understand the need for a CW mark on this.
    – NVZ
    Sep 16, 2022 at 11:21
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    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – Chenmunka
    Sep 16, 2022 at 15:50
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    @Chenmunka You may not like the answer. It was not designed to put those people who are actively anti-educational in a warm and fuzzy light. However, it directly answers both prongs of the OP's question. Is it not ungrammatical, and is it not ungrammatical according to the dogma of the teachers in the OP's country (his description), or anywhere else. If you disagree, explain exactly how. Sep 16, 2022 at 16:30
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There are certain nouns in English that are plural only and have no singular equivalents. Some such as trousers, scissors, pajamas, pantyhose, shears, binoculars, headphones, etc. [but…] clothes, goods, thanks, shenanigans, antics

All the examples of plurale tantum cited by the O.P, with the exemption of the AmEng panthose, end with the suffix -s. Many of these words are considered plural because they are made up of a pair of something: trousers have two trouser legs, (note the singular trouser used as a noun adjunct); field glasses, also called binoculars, consist of two telescopes; scissors have two blades, and so forth. As a result, the question form How many can be used in place of How many pairs of even when the noun is a plurale tantum that represents a single object.

How many clothes/ pajamas/ trousers/ headphones did you buy at the sale?

As well as that, we use plural verbs and pronouns for questions and answers; e.g. “Where are my tweezers?” “They’re in the bathroom cabinet.”

In the comment section, users have reminded the OP the following

  • You can be 100% confident that many thanks, many clothes and the like are idiomatic and correct. @Kate Bunting

and a few of these pluralia tantum actually have singular forms:

  • Antic, which you use in your third quote, is a straightforward countable noun. @Araucaria

also Shenanigan, pajama (We're invited to a pajama party down at Deirdre's), and tweezer.

The only exception I can think of where many is used with a singular noun or pronoun is in the somewhat outdated literary form, many a

They walked on the moors many a time.
Many a man has tried but few men have succeeded.
Many a little makes a mickle.
An over confidence has wrecked many a ship, and lost many a battle.

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  • You're not suggesting that questions dealing with quantities cannot begin with How many pairs of…?, are you?
    – listeneva
    Sep 20, 2022 at 10:23
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    @listeneva No, I'm not. I was trying to explain that the question form "How many" can be used in placed of "How many pairs of" even when the noun is clearly a plurale tantum. I'll edit and clarify later.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 20, 2022 at 13:40
  • Thought so, but just double-checking...//BTW, I don't think the question is about whether many can be used with a singular noun. The OP's erroneously assuming that many cannot combine with plural-only nouns, which isn't true at all. How can you answer a question that's based on a false premise other than answering a different question (like you did)?
    – listeneva
    Sep 21, 2022 at 4:13
  • @listenevalisten I did answer the question but I also provided an example where "many + plural noun/pluralism tantum" rule is defied.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 21, 2022 at 6:50
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Your question seems to be based on this mistaken premise:

...unlike a lot or lots, many is almost always said to be compatible with only countable nouns...

Says who?

Countable nouns, by definition, are nouns that can be counted-- that is, nouns that can be determined by cardinal numerals one, two, three, etc.

Many is compatible not only with countable nouns, but also with plural-only nouns. For example, people meaning "persons" is a plural-only noun, so you can't say *one people, but you can certainly say many people in appropriate context.

There are so many people here.

There is no answering your question directly without first questioning the validity of its premise.


Now the question has been edited to remove the premise, at least the explicit statement that many cannot combine with plural-only nouns. Yet the OP is still based on the same false premise now implied in the last paragraph:

I'm still not 100% confident that many can be used like this. Is there an authoritative source on how to deal with specifically many and pluralia tantum?

It's abundantly clear from all the comments and answers so far that the OP's confidence, or lack thereof, on the matter is entirely unfounded. How can you properly answer a question that is based on a pure speculation that turns out to be false, nothing more than a figment of the OP's imagination?

If there's any post that needs to be closed, I strongly feel this is the one. I wonder where all the aggressive closevoters are.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – NVZ
    Sep 21, 2022 at 16:06

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