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Quantifiers? What for?


Nowadays, especially in scientific and technical fields, it’s impossible not to talk about quantities.


Quantities can be very accurate (24 crates, ¼ inch) or vague (many miles, a few passengers).


The things we count can be units or mass (many dollars – much money – a few gallons of fuel – a little pressure)



Count nouns vs. Mass nouns – Things vs. Stuff




There are things and there is stuff. There are things you can count (like the stars in the sky) and others you cannot count (like the water in your glass).


‘You can count’ doesn’t mean you need to reach the end of the counting and a final result. Nobody knows for sure how many stars there are in the universe but you can definitely know how many stars there are on a flag. So, if you can count 1, 2, 3, etc., you’re talking about things represented by count nouns.


On the other hand, you can’t count water or any fluid for instance. You can count liters, cans, gallons, drops of that, but you can’t say 1 water, 2 waters, 3 waters, etc. If you cannot count 1, 2, 3, etc., you are talking about stuff represented by mass nouns.



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a/an  - one – the – Ø

a -an

We use a/an* before singular count nouns** when the listener or reader doesn’t know exactly which person or thing we mean.

There’s a passenger who is sick. (We don’t know which passenger.)

I met a Japanese engineer. He works for a Brazilian company. (We don’t know which engineer, or which company.)



We use a/an to talk about something or someone that could be any member of its class.

A screwdriver is a tool for driving in screws.

A first-officer is someone who assists a pilot.



* To choose between a and an, you must know the pronunciation of the word that comes after.

We use a before a word that starts with a consonant sound, and an before a word that starts with a vowel sound. For example,

a pilot, a factory, a one-day trip, a union, a home, a young engineer

an aircraft, an engineer, an idea, an operation, an unknown reason, an hour, an honest unionist, an old pilot



** We cannot use singular countable nouns alone (without a, the, my, one, etc.)


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Think of one as a number, in contrast with two, three, and so on. One also contrasts with another and the other(s).

There is more than one way to drill for petroleum.

There are two aircraft waiting to land. One is a Boeing and the other is an Airbus.


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We use the before singular and plural count nouns, and before mass nouns when we say or when the listener / reader knows exactly which person or thing we mean.

The passenger in seat 37B is sick. (We know which passenger.)

I met the Japanese engineer who is going to offer support to the Brazilian company which supplies us with rubber. (We know which engineer and which company.)

The plastic bottle water rockets we built and launched went through an impressive R&D program. (We know which bottle water rockets.)



We use the to talk about people and things we have already mentioned.

Our system comprises a parachute, attached to a container. The container is surrounded by a protective structure.



We use the when it is clear from the situation which people or things we mean.

‘Where is Peter?’        ‘He’s in the meeting room.’ (= the meeting room of the company)

‘Is the landing gear down?’ (= the landing gear on this aircraft)

‘When I arrived, the receptionist told me to wait.’ (= the receptionist of the place where I arrived)



We use the when there is only one of something, e.g. the sun, the moon, the sky, etc.

We have offices all around the world.

Brasilia is the capital of Brazil.




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When we talk about something in general, we use plural or mass nouns with nothing (Ø) before.

Tires are made of rubber and a few other things. (= tires in general)

Flight attendants are trained not only for service but for security. (= flight attendants in general)



When we talk about abstract nouns like happiness, death, nature, life, etc. we use nothing (Ø) before them.

He only cares about money.



When we make general statements or when we want to generalize, we use count and mass nouns with nothing (Ø) before them.

Bird strikes are really dangerous.

Money can’t buy happiness.

Robots will never do what men and women can do.



More on articles

Of course there would be much more to say about this subject, like

-  the or an/an or Ø before the names of countries, people, languages (Brazil, the Philippines, the English, Portuguese)

-  the or an/an or Ø adjectives (The rich and the poor)

-  the or an/an or Ø in common expressions (at the movies, at home, on the ground, What a good idea!, go to school)

-  the or an/an or Ø when talking about transport (I took a plane, I traveled by plane, the plane was late)

-  the or an/an or Ø when talking about meals (We’ll serve a meal. We’ll serve lunch. The lunch was terrible.)

-  etc.

but it’s not immediately connected to quantity so we’ll come back to this later on.


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Positive vs. negative ways of looking at things

Two people can look at the same thing and see it quite differently. Then they will choose different quantifiers to talk about the same quantity.





The tank is half full.

There’s some gas left.

The tank is half empty.

There isn’t much gas left.

I have a few friends.

I have few friends.

I have got a little money;
it should be enough to live on.

I’ve got little money.
I can’t afford everything I want.

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Whatever your point of view is, the scale is something like this:













Mass nouns




Count nouns





How much?



How many?

lots (of)

tons (of)

plenty (of)

a great deal (of)

a large amount (of)



a great number (of)

a large number (of)

a great quantity* (of)

a lot (of)

too much



too many










some / any

a little

a bit / drop (of)



a few

a small number (of)

(very / too) little



(very / too) few

hardly any

no / none**
not… any
















* We use quantity for inanimate objects. A great quantity of bottles... A great number of people…

** No is always followed by a noun. If we don’t want to repeat the noun, then we use none.

Are there any specific instructions about this? No, none.



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Some / any / no

We use some to talk about an indefinite quantity:

There are some passengers on this flight.

We need some fuel.

We’ve ordered some parts.

How about adding some rubber?



The opposite of some is no or not… any.

There are no passengers on this flight. There aren’t any passengers on this flight.

We don’t need any fuel.

We haven’t ordered any parts.

There is no rubber here.

The difference between no and not… any (and their compounds) is largely one of emphasis:

I don’t know anything about car mechanics. (simple fact)

I know nothing about car mechanics. (more likely to be said emphatically or defensively)



In a question, we use some or any to talk about an indefinite quantity.

Some is normally used in questions when we expect people to answer ‘yes’, when we’re checking to make sure that our idea is correct, or when we give an invitation, make a request, an offer….

Do we have some nice slides for the presentation this afternoon?

Do you want some help with that?

Could you bring us some samples?

Any is normally used in questions which we ask in order to find out if something exists, when we are making a simple inquiry and have no idea what the answer will be.

Will there be any animals on board?

Did you encounter any bad weather on your way?

Are there any leaks on these pipes?


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Much / many

Much and many are used alone in positive statements which are formal, i.e., when you want the statement to sound important:

There is much to be said for your point of you.

I know many who would not agree with you.

In other cases, use a lot:

You talk a lot, but you don’t do much.



Much and many are mostly used in combination with other words. The commonest combinations are with:






to form the question words


How much?


How many?





to form the negatives


Not much.


Not many.


(not) so
(not) as


to state how much/many

Too much.

Not so much

As much

Too many.

So many.

Not as many.





to state how much more or less


Much more.


Many more.




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All, every, and each are words that are concerned with the group of things or people and the individual members of the group. They describe the group but in different ways:



All =

the group seen as
one thing

Every =

the group seen as
a series of X members

Each =

the members of the group
seen individually




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All vs. Every

Every has a similar meaning to all: every means ‘all without exception’. Compare:

All the engineers in this plant are Brazilian.

Every engineer in this plant is Brazilian. (= all the engineers without exception)

Note that we can use all with plural words, but we only use every with singular words.

All passengers have to disembark.  Every passenger has to disembark.

We can use all with mass nouns, but NOT every.

Did you use all fuel? (Not: …. every fuel)



We use all with some singular countable nouns eg day, morning, week, year to mean ‘the entire’; we use every with day, morning, etc. to say how often something happens*. Compare:

I work had all day . (= the entire day)

I work hard every day. (= Monday, Tuesday, etc.)



* We use every in expressions which describe the frequency with which something happens:

- with plural nouns, as in every three days, every twenty minutes.

- with other, meaning one yes – one no, as in every other day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday…)

- with ordinals, as in We hold a happy-hour every fourth Friday.


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All vs. everybody / everything

We do not normally use all alone, without a noun, to mean everybody or everyone. Compare:

All the production people stopped working. / Everybody stopped working.

We could keep all the passengers safe. / We could keep everyone safe.



We do not often use all to mean everything.

Everything is so expensive these days.  (NOT: All is so expensive these days.)

Have you got everything? (NOT: Have you got all?)

But we can use all to mean everything in the structure all (that) + relative clause or in the expression ‘all about

All (that) you see in this catalog is so expensive.

Have you got all (that) you need?

Tell me all about yourself.



We can also use all to mean ‘the only thing(s)’ or ‘nothing more’.

I’m not hungry. All I want is a cup of tea.

That’s all, folks. Thanks for your attention.


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All vs. whole

Whole means ‘complete’ or ‘every part of’. We normally use whole (preceded by a, the, my, this, etc.) with singular countable nouns.

I have checked the whole cockpit.

We spent our whole weekend on this problem. We spent all our weekend on this problem.

We’ve used up a whole bottle of oxygen.



We do not normally use whole with mass nouns.

We’ve used all the oxygen. (NOT: …the whole oxygen)


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Every vs. each

We use every when we think of a whole group and we use each when we think of the members of a group separately, one at a time.




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We can use both to mean ‘the two together’ or ‘one and the other’ before a plural countable noun eventually preceded by the, your, these, etc.

Both reports were positive.

I spoke to both suppliers.

Did you check both (of) our emergency exits?



We use both of before the plural object pronouns you, us, them. In this case we cannot leave out of.

She invited both of us to the meeting.

Both of them were present for the briefing.


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Either and Neither

We can use either to mean ‘one or the other’, and neither* to mean ‘not one and not the other’ before a singular countable noun.

We could hold the meeting on Monday or Tuesday. Either day is fine with me.

Neither runway is open due to bad weather.



We use either of and neither of** before your, these, the, etc… + a plural countable noun or before you, us, them. (In this case we cannot leave out of.)

Can either of your superiors sign this document?

Neither of our engines is working.

Neither of us speaks Japanese well enough to go along without a translator.



* Neither and either have 2 pronunciations. As an example, view the video "Let's call the whole thing off' on Quantifiers Plus.


** After neither of we can use a singular or plural verb.

Neither of these alternatives is/are realistic.

Neither of them works/work on this machine.



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You want more?  Visit Quantifiers Plus.






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