Quantifiers in English
Last time, we looked at how to use articles with nouns. This week, we’re looking at quantifiers. These are another way to modify nouns, but quantifiers give information about the quantity, or number, of something: how much or how many.
Of course, the easiest quantifiers are just the numbers! I immediately know how many when you say “three flowers”, so “three” is a quantifier. But in real life, we often don’t know exactly how many of something there are. We are not likely to know, for example, “There were 10,147 people at the demonstration”. For numbers where we’re know more or less how many we can use about or around. So, “There were about 10,000 people at the demonstration” still tells us the approximate number. However, sometimes we don’t even know the approximate number (I wouldn’t know what a group of 10,000 people looks like!) and sometimes we are talking about something which can’t have a number. For instance, *”There is 30 happiness” is meaningless!
This shows us that, like articles, deciding which quantifier to use depends on the type of noun. The quantifier depends on whether the thing we’re talking about is singular or plural; countable or uncountable. There are quite a few quantifiers (did you notice “quite a few” in this sentence?!) but once you know which nouns to use and how much of something you’re talking about, the rules are fairly straightforward.
Remember that the right quantifier depends on the noun. With COUNTABLE nouns (e.g. flower), we can use these quantifiers with plural nouns: many flowers, a (large) number of flowers, several flowers, (a) few flowers, a couple of flowers, and both / none of the flowers (they are in DESCENDING ORDER!). We can use these quantifiers with singular nouns: each flower, every flower.
With UNCOUNTABE nouns (e.g. happiness), we can use a good/great deal of happiness, a bit of happiness, an amount of happiness, (a) little happiness, not much happiness, and no happiness.
If, like many people, you don’t like thinking about whether a noun is countable or uncountable, then you’ll be very happy to know that there are some quantifiers which we can use with BOTH countable and uncountable nouns. These include: all (of the) flowers/happiness, most (of the) flowers/happiness, a lot of flowers/happiness, lots of flowers/happiness, plenty of flowers/happiness, some flowers/happiness, enough flowers/happiness, and a lack of flowers/happiness.
So, we have seen that we need to think about whether the noun is countable or not. But, as the quantifiers are to tell us how much or how many of something, we also need to know which ones to use to say this. We can use categories of quantifiers to help us.
For LARGE QUANTITIES we can use: most (of), much (of), lots of, a lot of, loads of, and plenty of
For SMALL QUANTITIES we can use: (a) few (of), (a) little (of), (a) bit (of), and a couple (of)
For INCLUSIVE QUANTITIES to include the whole amount, we can use all (of), both (of) for two, each (of), every, and the whole (of)
For INDEFINITE QUANTITIES when we don’t know the exact number or quantity, we can use some (of), several (of), and any (of)
For NEGATIVE QUANTITIES we can use no, neither (of) for two, and none (of)
For COMPARATIVE QUANTITIES we can use more (of), less (of) for uncountable, and fewer (of) for countable,
For PARTATIVE QUANTITIES when we want to say part of the quantity, we can use a piece (of), a group (of), etc.
Remember, we don’t finish a clause or sentence with a quantifier and “of”. So, to answer the question, “How many people were at the party?” we can say “There were lots of people at the party” or “There were lots.” BUT “
There were lots of” is NOT correct.
- Remember too that there is a significant difference in what we mean when we use a little or (very) little (for uncountable) and a few or (very) few (for countable). If we leave out “a” we give a NEGATIVE meaning to the quantifier, meaning that the quantity is LESS than we expected, or NOT ENOUGH. For example, “Linda has a little experience in hotel management” just tells us the amount of experience that Linda has – she has some experience but not much. We might employ her in our hotel. BUT “Linda has little experience in hotel management” is negative and tells us that Linda doesn’t have enough experience. We should employ somebody else for our hotel as Linda is too inexperienced for the job.
- In formal situations, rather than a lot of, lots of or plenty of, we usually prefer to use many or much. For example, “There are many people” is more formal than “There are lots of people”, although the number of people in the two sentences is the same.
- We usually use much in questions (E.g. How much money is in the piggy-bank?) and negative statements (E.g. I don’t have much money). However, much of can be used in statements (E.g. Much of the money was spent on food.)
Now it’s up to you! Can you remember whish quantifiers we use and when?
Here are some links to more explanations and some exercises to practise:
This is a very useful YouTube lesson on quantifiers which gives explanations and examples:
My English Pages has some exercises to practise using quantifiers at http://www.myenglishpages.com/site_php_files/grammar-exercise-quantifiers.php
The British Council has an explanation of determiners and quantifiers and exercises. You can practise using the articles from last time as well as quantifiers from this week’s blog!
Have fun practising! Please leave a comment, we’d love to hear your views.