When we need to refer to a large number of countable things, we often use the word “many.” In some situations, we might want to emphasize the “many.” But, is it correct to say “very many”?
It is correct to say “very many.” “Very” is an intensifier, and we use such words to add emphasis to the word(s) following it. We can say, “I have not received very many responses to my invitation yet,” or, “There weren’t very many people we knew at the party.” Note that “very many” can sound repetitive in some statements.
We will explore “very many” in this article as we discuss how and when to use it and look at alternatives. In addition, we will have a brief look at the different types of adjectives.
What Does “Very Many” Mean?
When we use “very” before words like “many” or “much,” it helps add emphasis. Therefore, “very many” simply translates to “numerous,” “a large number of,” or “way more than many” (source).
Let us look at the component words to help understand this phrase better.
“Many” finds many uses in the English language. It means “a large number of people or things.” We can use “many” as a determiner, pronoun, or quantifier, among other roles in sentences (source).
Let’s look at some examples of how we can use “many”:
- There are so many choices on this menu that I cannot make up my mind.
- He has been warned many times about his tardiness.
- There were as many as a thousand people in the competition.
- How many students were in the class last night?
- Many people do not have basic amenities like food and shelter.
“Very” has a few different meanings. As an adverb, it means “to a great degree or extent” or “truly.” It also finds use as an adjective that means “exact” or “absolute.” We use it to add emphasis to the word(s) or phrase(s) following it (source).
Here are a few sentences using “very” in its different forms:
- He ate the whole slice in one mouthful before my very eyes.
- She is a very talented baker.
- I have heard the very same story many times now.
- Nowadays, companies make products for this very purpose.
- The fox did not find very many ripe grapes on the vine and left in disappointment.
As you can see from the above examples, using “very” before the words or phrases it modifies adds emphasis.
How Do You Use “Very Many”?
We use “very many” most often in questions or negative sentences. It is also common to use “very many” in response to questions about numbers of people or things, as well as a quantifier in sentences (source).
For example, we can say, “There aren’t very many people who can afford the high cost of housing in the Bay Area nowadays.” This means that very few people can afford the high housing costs.
To check about the popularity of a new TV show, we could ask, “I just heard about this show. Does it have very many viewers?”
A response to this question using “very many” could be, “It is a good show, but it does not have many viewers yet. Maybe, more viewers will watch it once they realize how good it is.”
Using “Very Many” in a Full Sentence
“Very many” is an incomplete phrase, meaning we cannot use it alone. Instead, we have to use it with additional information that lets readers or listeners know what we are referring two with “very many.”
Here are a few scenarios and examples where we commonly find “very many”:
- We did not see very many healthy choices on the restaurant’s menu last night.
- Were there very many people at the performance yesterday?
- Sadly, there are not very many places to see monarch butterflies nowadays.
When Can You Use “Very Many”?
“Very” is an intensifier, and we use it to emphasize or add “more” to the word(s) following it. When we use “very” with “many” in positive or affirmative statements, we modify “many” by adding intensity to it. In these cases, it means more than “many.” We usually use “very many” in negative sentences or questions.
Some common examples of this phrase include:
- There were not very many options on the menu for vegetarians.
- So why aren’t there very many pieces left?
It also finds use in British formal positive sentences where a relative clause (acting as a postmodifier) follows the noun. However, Americans find this construction awkward and incorrect. For example:
- There are still very many people who use a rotary phone!
While it is not grammatically incorrect to use “very many” in regular positive sentences, like the one below, it is redundant and usually avoided. So, we can skip the “very” or use a different clause altogether, like “a lot of.” We will look at more alternative options in a later section.
- There are very many trees in the park.
Note that while this statement is correct, it simply sounds awkward, and we prefer to say, “There are many trees in the park” or “There are a lot of trees in the park” to convey the same message.
One situation where we can use it in a positive statement would be for stage effect or emphasis. For example, in a dialog, you could say, “He gave me a bouquet with very many red roses! Do you think he loves me?”
However, note that “so many” works and always sounds better in such cases.
When Not to Use “Very Many”
We should avoid using “very many” in positive and affirmative statements. In general, we can skip “very” ahead of “many” because it does not add to the meaning of the sentence – it’s redundant. In fact, it often takes away from the meaning of the word “many.”
Overall, it’s better to skip it in formal writing and conversations due to the redundant nature of the phrase.
People tend to add intensifiers like “very” in an effort to strengthen writing. While “very” might make sense in many instances, it often weakens or diminishes the power of the word or phrase instead of empowering it because “very” is overused. We can easily find more robust words and should look for them.
For example, we could use “freezing” for “very cold,” “colossal” for “very large,” “terrified” for “very afraid,” or “exquisite” for “very beautiful.” Note that using these words instead of “very” not only adds strength to our writing but also helps show our language prowess.
What Can You Use Instead of “Very Many”?
Given the meaning of “very many,” we have many alternatives. When choosing an option, one must remember the degree or strength of meaning they intend. For example, “myriad” seems like more than “numerous.”
Let’s look at a few of them below, all of which can be substituted for “very many” in various contexts.
- A lot of
- A large number
Like “many,” these words are determiners or quantifiers and help quantify or modify a noun, like “numberless stars,” “a lot of options,” or “many balloons.”
Some grammarians classify determiners and quantifiers as adjectives that help answer the question “How much?” or “How many?” We will explore adjective types in the next section.
An adjective is a word or phrase that helps modify or describe a noun and is one of the most important parts of speech. It helps us add descriptive meaning to our conversations and differentiate between things. There are various types of adjectives, and we will look at a few of them briefly (source).
We have comparative and superlative adjectives to help us compare. Comparative adjectives help us compare two things to one another (like smaller, bigger, better), and superlative adjectives help us indicate the most extreme (like “smallest,” “biggest,” “worst,” and “best”).
Descriptive and attributive adjectives help us describe or provide attributes to nouns and pronouns. These include words like “small,” “big,” “friendly,” “yellow,” and “good.”
Then we have determiners and quantifiers, which many grammarians include in a separate category from adjectives, while some grammar schools consider them the same as adjectives.
“Many” is one of those words we can use as a determiner or quantifier, as we have already seen. Grammarians who classify “many” as an adjective typically refer to it as a numeral or numerical adjective.
Using intensifiers like “very” with numerical adjectives adds emphasis to them, giving the effect of “more than many” in the case of “very many.” Check out our article Are Numbers Adjectives? for more on this topic.
We can use words like “many” and “much” with intensifiers like “very,” “great,” and “so” to add emphasis. In English grammar, an intensifier is a word (usually an adverb) that increases the degree of emphasis or force on the element it modifies (source).
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
So in the phrase “very many,” we are using the intensifier “very” with the quantifier (or determiner, depending on usage) “many” to indicate “more than many” of the things we are referring to. For another article on using intensifiers, read Is It Correct to Say “Much More”?
“Very many” is a phrase that can sound redundant at worst and unnecessary at best. And while it is not incorrect, it is like saying, “It is not incorrect,” rather than saying, “It is correct!” So use it in negative sentences or questions but avoid using it in writing and positive sentences.
Now that you know more about this phrase and as you learn more about the language itself, you will soon find that there are not very many ways you can really mess up this quirky English language.