Many” and “much” are determiners that both mean “a large amount.”

Even though the ways they are used are quite similar, they’re not interchangeable at all.

* Please note: “Many” and “much” has other uses as well but I’m focusing on their use as determiners here.

Overview
ManyMuch
A large number ofA large amount/degree
Can sometimes sound unnatural in affirmative sentences
Used with plural countable nounsUsed with singular uncountable nouns

Many

1. It means “a large number of.”
  • Many people agreed with her.”
  • “How many years have you lived in Australia?”
a. You can use “so,” “too,” “very” and “a great” to modify “many.”

Using “so” and “too” are more common. To me, using “very” and “a great” sound more formal.

  • “They are so many dogs around today.”
  • A great many questions are still left unanswered.”
2. “Many” + plural countable nouns.

Countable nouns are usually things that are found as individual objects and easy to count.

  • Many homes in Australia have at least one pet.”
  • How many cats do you have?”
“Many” in affirmative sentences

I’ve come across a number of resources that say that “many” should not be used in affirmative sentences in spoken English. “A lot of” is the informal equivalent to use instead.

While this is true, I think it’s kind of created some confusion because it implies that “many” sounds unnatural in spoken English—which I think is not true. I think “many” still sounds quite natural in affirmative sentences anyway. Furthermore, in “Grammar in Use” (2012, pp. 174), it says that “many” can be used in all kinds of sentences and is interchangeable with “a lot of.”

I think using “many” in less formal contexts is okay as long as it is used correctly. And remember that “a lot of” should not be used in formal contexts because it’s obviously informal.


Much

1. It means “a large amount or a large degree.”
  • “Kids nowadays just seem to have too much time on their hands.”
  • “I didn’t get much sleep.”
2. Using “much” by itself can sometimes sound unnatural in affirmative sentences.

“A lot” is considered informal and more common.

  • “How much food did you manage to buy?”
  • “There wasn’t much rice left at the supermarket.”
  • “But there were a lot of rice when I went there yesterday.”
    Not – “But there were much rice when I went there yesterday.”
  • “I got a lot of sugar in the pantry.”
    Not – “I got much sugar in the pantry.”
a. Using “much” in affirmative sentences tend to be more formal.
  • “He spent much time and many attempts in reconciling the two parties.”
  • “There is much concern about the upcoming elections.”
b. It’s possible to use “so much” and “too much” in affirmative sentences.

Although “so” and “too” are adverbs that modify “much,” it’s better to think of these as expressions.

So much” can be used to emphasise a large quantity of something or imply a specified amount. “Too much” means “excessively” or “more than necessary.”

  • “We have so much work to do. It’s almost unbelievable.”
  • “Sometimes I think I have too much pasta. But then again, you can never have too much of a good thing.”
2.   “Much” + uncountable nouns.

“Much” is used with uncountable nouns, usually in their singular form. These are nouns that are not easy to count, like abstract ideas, or liquor or gas, or certain foods.

  • “I feel bad for taking so much food.
  • “We didn’t have much money back in those days.”

* Please note: Money is an uncountable noun.

  • “We don’t have much money.”
    Not – “We don’t have many money.”

Nouns that are both countable and uncountable

There are nouns that can be both countable and uncountable because they have several definitions.

For example, “time.”

  • “I’ve read Lord of the Rings many times.”
    This refers to the number of occasions I’ve read Lord of the Rings.
  • “I don’t have much time left to make dessert.”
    This refers to the amount of time I have left to make dessert.

Other nouns that can be countable and uncountable include “cheese,” “wood,” “vision” and “work.”​


Original post: 1 December 2020