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How to Use Quantifiers at Work

Introduction

Quantifiers are important words that let us express the quantity of something. There are several quantifiers in English and they can be a little tricky to use. What I find interesting is that even more advanced speakers often make mistakes when using quantifiers.

So, here’s a description of each quantifier with examples to help improve your understanding of them. In today’s episode I will also outline the typical mistakes people make.


What are quantifiers?

A quantifier is a word or phrase used before a noun to indicate an amount or quantity of a thing. There are quantifiers to describe large quantities (a lot, much, many), small quantities (a little, a bit, a few) and undefined quantities (some, any). There are also quantifiers that express the idea of a sufficient amount (enough, plenty).

There are some quantifiers that have a similar meaning but differ because one is used with countable nouns and the other is used with uncountable nouns. Countable nouns are things that we can count; for example, a desk, two pens. Uncountable nouns are things that we cannot count and only have a singular form; for example, some furniture, some work.

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Quantifiers that express large quantities

We use many, much, a lot (of) to refer to big quantities. We use many with countable nouns and much with uncountable nouns, and we can use a lot (of) with both countable and uncountable nouns.

Examples:

  • There are many things to do today.
  • We have a lot of time left, don’t worry.
  • Many people take the train to work.
  • We still have much work to do.

Quantifiers for small quantities

To talk about small quantities, we can use a few and a little. We use a few with countable nouns and a little with uncountable nouns. It’s also possible to use a bit with uncountable nouns, but it is more informal.

Examples:

To talk about small quantities, we can use a few and a little. We use a few with countable nouns and a little with uncountable nouns. It’s also possible to use a bit with uncountable nouns, but it is more informal.

Examples:

  • We need a few coins for the car park.
  • Would you like a little milk in your coffee?
  • This PowerPoint presentation needs a bit more work.

Undefined quantities

When we want to refer to a plural noun or an uncountable noun, without giving a specific quantity, we use some and any. We use some in affirmatives and any in questions and negatives.

Examples:

  • We have some free time later this afternoon.
  • She doesn’t want any coffee.
  • I went to some meetings in Rome last week.
  • Will there be any managers at the party?

Sufficient quantities

The words enough and plenty express the idea of being a sufficient quantity. Both words can go with countable and uncountable nouns. We use plenty (of) to mean there is more than a sufficient quantity of something. For example:

  • Slow down. We’ve got plenty of time to get to the meeting.

We use enough to express the idea of having, or not having, a sufficient quantity. For example:

  • I think we have enough computers. It is not necessary to request any more.
  • We don’t have enough clients. We have to improve our business strategy.

Questions about quantity

When we want to ask the quantity of something, we use how much with uncountable nouns or how many with countable nouns.

Examples:

  • How many people were at the meeting?.
  • How many chairs do we need?
  • How much time have you got?
  • How much petrol shall I buy?

We also use how much when we ask the cost of something. For example:

  • How much does this sofa cost?.
  • How much are those gloves?

Understanding real life use cases

Quantifiers are used frequently in business negotiations, and they often have an underlying meaning. If you are not a native speaker of English then maybe some of these subtle uses may be missed by you.

What I mean is that, often people will use them to sound more polite rather than telling you straight up their true feelings. For example:

  • Your invoice payment conditions are a bit restrictive for us.

In this case, what the person actually means is that the payment terms are restrictive or very restrictive. We use a bit in this case to sound less direct and more polite.

Common mistakes

Finally, I just want to quickly point out the common mistakes that non-native speakers make. These mistakes generally relate to the incorrect use of countable and uncountable nouns.

My advice is to make sure you have a clear understanding of uncountable nouns in English. For example, in this sentence I have used the word advice, this is an uncountable noun, yet some people will use it in a plural form. To make it singular we would need to use the expression, a piece of. For example:

  • Can I give you a piece of advice?

So, one of the main sources of mistakes when using quantifiers is to distinguish between countable nouns (also called unit nouns) and uncountable nouns (mass nouns), but here you have a useful tip to do it.

Unit nouns have two forms, singular and plural: e.g., a chair, chairs. You can say 1 chair, 2 chairs, 3 chairs etc. This is why unit nouns are also called countable nouns.

Mass nouns only have one form: e.g., furniture, clothes. So, you can’t say 1 furniture, 2 furnitures, 3 furnitures etc. This is why mass nouns are also called uncountable nouns.

Final thoughts

As you can see, quantifiers are adjectives used to express the quantity of the noun they follow. While they might refer to an unspecified quantity, they still help us better understand the amount of what we’re talking about.

If you are looking to improve your general English then why not sign up for one of my general English online courses. We cover this grammar and a whole lot more.

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As always, if you have further questions or if you would like some advice, please leave us a comment or contact us on our Facebook page. If you liked this article, then don’t hesitate to share it with your friends.

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Andrew


Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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