Like all determiners, quantifiers are words that precede and modify nouns. They tell us how many or how much.
Selecting the correct quantifier depends on whether a countable or a non-countable noun is used. We use certain quantifiers before countable nouns (things that can be counted), and we use other quantifiers before uncountable nouns (things that cannot be counted).
We do not add ‘s‘ to uncountable nouns to make them plural.
Quantifiers as determiners
We use ‘many‘ before countable nouns and we use ‘much‘ before uncountable nouns. These quantifiers can be used in affirmative, negative sentences and questions.
- We don’t have much time left.
- How many rings do you have?
- There are many offices in this building.
We can use them with ‘too much‘ and ‘too many‘ in affirmative sentences.
- I put too much pepper on my potatoes.
- We have too many chairs setup.
Not many/not much
‘Many‘ and ‘much‘ can also be used in the negative with ‘not’.
- There are not many people here.
- There’s not much stuff to do around here.
‘Hardly any‘ means very few, almost none. It is similar to ‘not many‘, except ‘hardly any‘ can be used with countable and uncountable nouns. It is used in affirmative statements.
- There are hardly any crackers left.
- She ate hardly any food when she was here.
(A) few/(a) little
We use ‘(a) few‘ before countable nouns and ‘(a) little‘ before uncountable nouns.
We can use these quantifiers in affirmative and negative sentences, as well as interrogative sentences.
- May I have a few cookies for my snack?
- I have received very little information about the job.
‘A few‘ means some, not many, enough.
‘Few‘ (without a) means not enough, almost none.
‘A little‘ means some, a small amount.
‘Little‘ (without a) means very little, almost none.
- We only have a few eggs left. (enough but not a lot)
- We have very few sodas left; we need to buy more. (not enough, almost none)
- I have little knowledge on the subject. (a very small amount, almost none)
- I have a little knowledge on the subject. (some, not much)
We can use an article, demonstrative or possessive after ‘(a) few‘ if it is quantifying something specific.
- A few of those toys belong to me.
- Few of my flowers bloomed this year.
- A few of the boys went hunting.
A lot of/lots of
We use ‘a lot of‘ or ‘lots of‘ before both countable and uncountable nouns. We usually use these quantifiers in positive sentences.
- I had a lot of fun on the weekend.
- We ate lots of chocolate bars at the movie.
*Lots of is more informal.
We can use ‘some‘ in affirmative sentences and interrogatives though it is most often used in affirmative statements.
We use ‘any‘ in negative statements and questions.
- She has some messages for you.
- Can I ask you some questions?
- Is there any salt in this container?
- I don’t have any books with me.
Both ‘some‘ and ‘any‘ can be used with countable and uncountable nouns. We must use the plural form when ‘some‘ and ‘any‘ come before a countable noun.
- Are there any raisins in it?
- I just saw some dogs running through the woods.
‘Any‘ can also be used in the negative with ‘not’.
- They did not have any decorations.
- There aren’t any people here yet.
We can use ‘no‘ and ‘none of‘ with both countable and uncountable nouns. ‘No‘ is used in affirmative sentences.
- None of us wanted to tell the truth.
- I have no money.
- None of the information is valid.
- There are no coins in her bag.
All of/most of
‘All of‘ and ‘most of’can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns. We can use an article (the), demonstrative (this, that), and possessive pronoun (my, your) with ‘all of’ and ‘most of’ if it refers to something or someone specific.
- The dog ate all of the food. (nothing is left)
- They destroyed most of the documents. (a few remain; not all but the majority)
Here’s a depiction of how quantifiers are used with countable and uncountable nouns:
Quantifiers as pronouns
Some quantifiers can function as pronouns when the noun is known or obvious.
- Yes, you can have chips for a snack. But, don’t eat too many. (‘many’ refers to ‘chips’)
- Do you need money? Yes, because I don’t have much. (‘much’ refers to ‘money’)
Again, we use ‘many‘ to refer to countable nouns and ‘much‘ to refer to uncountable nouns.
- Look at the food! I am going to eat a lot!
- I have not finished my homework, yet. I still have lots to do.
- My mom made cookies, and I want lots / a lot.
- Did you find the right information? Yes, I did, and there is a lot.
‘Lots‘ is more informal. We can use ‘lots‘ and ‘a lot‘ to refer to both countable and uncountable nouns.
- I want a piece. Is there any left?
- Did you have cake? Yes, I had some.
- No one would even try this. Actually, some have done it.
- You can talk to the students, but most have already left.
We can use ‘some‘ and ‘any‘ to refer to both countable and uncountable nouns. We use ‘most‘ to refer to countable nouns.
Hardly any/not many/not much
- The students know the due date is close, but not many have even started the assignment, yet. (‘not many’ refers to ‘students’)
- Coffee? Hurry, there’s not much left. (‘not much’ refers to ‘coffee’)
- I wanted one of those pens, but there are hardly any left.
We can use ‘not many‘ to refer to countable nouns, ‘not much‘ to uncountable nouns, and ‘hardly any‘ to both countable and uncountable nouns.
- Sorry, I already did it all.
- Do you have honey? No, sorry, none. (‘none’ refers to ‘honey’)
(A) few/(a) little
- Little is known about his childhood. (not much, almost nothing)
- Tea anyone? Yes, I would like a little. (a small amount)
- A few have done it before. (not many but some)
- Few have dared to trespass on that property. (almost none)
|Note: A singular pronoun takes a singular verb, i.e.: much/little + has.|
A plural pronoun takes a plural verb, i.e., few/many + have.
Here’s a video from AMES836 explaining usage of quantifiers:
Read more on the topic:
Pronouns and Determiners: Other, Others, the Other(s) or Another
Possession: Determiners, Pronouns, Apostrophe ‘s
Pronouns and Determiners: Each, Every, Either, Neither, Both, Half, All