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In an English training book published by Oxford University, there's a conversation containing the line below:

Look, there's a building with many/some people outside. Turn left before you get there.

The provided answer is some which confuses me a lot. Why can't it be many people?

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    Hello. Pacen. It's a matter of what sounds more natural, not which is grammatical (both are). 'A lot of' or 'lots of', say, would be used instead of 'many' here in conversation. Sep 26, 2022 at 12:59
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    It can. "Many" would imply a crowd of people, though, which might not fit the intended meaning.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 26, 2022 at 13:00
  • @EdwinAshworth, that looks like a good answer to me.
    – Peter
    Sep 26, 2022 at 13:42
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    As I've pointed out before, many and much are constrained in their appearance; try adding a negative and see what happens. They're not quite NPIs, but they're more comfortable in negative environments. Sep 26, 2022 at 16:10
  • Ask the grammar Nazis. They will come up with some reason why "some" is correct and "many" is wrong. I think they are kind of people (I forgot the word) who like to inflict and receive pain.
    – banuyayi
    Sep 26, 2022 at 17:45

2 Answers 2

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"Many" sounds more natural to me when it's used as a subject (or subject complement) rather than an object. When an object is needed, it feels more natural to use other phrases such as "a lot of" or "a bunch of". I find it odd to be testing students on this, though. It's hardly grammatically incorrect to use "many" in an object, and the feeling of unnaturalness is more of feeling stilted and overly formal rather than "wrong". "a lot of" and "a bunch of", on the other hand, feel more natural, but also more colloquial.

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We use many to refer to a large number of something countable. We most commonly use it in questions and in negative sentences:

  • Were there many children at the party?
  • I don’t have many relatives. We’re a small family.

We don’t normally use many alone before a noun in an affirmative statement:

There were a lot of people at the swimming pool this morning.

Not: There were many people

Cambridge Dictionary

Many grammar books at intermediate level will have learners believe that "many" is preferred in question forms and in negatives.

“How many people are in front of that building?”
“There aren't many.”

But a native speaker could also respond with the more informal
There's some” and “Not a lot.”

Arguing that “some” is the best choice because the noun building is preceded by the indefinite article is mistaken. Here are some examples with many in affirmative sentences:

Look, there's a car park (US parking lot) with many parking spaces.
Here's a book with many black and white photos.
I want a house with many rooms.

If the number of available parking spots, photos, or rooms were fewer then the determiner some would make a better fit.

So the answer is both determiners are grammatical, which one depends on the information the speaker/writer wants to convey. In everyday conversation, saying a building with some people outside is more natural because…

A lot of' or 'lots of', say, would be used instead of 'many' here in conversation. @Edwin Ashworth

See also: Is 'many' used in positive sentences or not?

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