I wrote:

The user even can specify multiple labels and variables, and store the content of each of them under a separate XML node.

Suppose a user can enter a command like:

Label1 = Variable1; Label2 = Variable2; ....

First, I want to know for such usage, several is better or multiple? What is the difference?

Second, should I say Multiple Labels and Variables, or Multiple Label and Variables, or Multiple Label and Variable Pairs?

Third, should I say The user even can specify or The user can even specify?

I know adverbs are usually placed after auxiliary verbs and before the main verb, and some can be placed in other places. But how much that is serious? Do you always prefer to hear an adverb between the auxiliary and main verb?

5 Answers 5

  1. The two are nearly synonymous, but in technical / numerical contexts multiple is definitely preferred, whereas several is usually used for descriptive contexts like "the user had included several labels", and implies a smallish number (between 3 and ~20). So in your example, multiple is correct. Definitely a stylistic choice though, linguistically and grammatically they are both correct.

  2. "Multiple Label and Variables" is incorrect - it should be "Multiple labels and variables". "Multiple Label and Variable Pairs" is also correct but now you are referring to the pairs not the collection of individual things. In your context you definitely mean "Multiple Label and Variable Pairs", but often authors might simply write "Multiple Labels and Variables", or even "Multiple variables", as a shorthand.

  3. You probably want: "The user can even specify", the "can even" here implies the of all the things the user can do, this is the one you wish to emphasise. If you wrote "The user even can specify" then the "user even" implies that of all the actors that can specify, you wish to emphasise the user - probably not what you meant! (Worth noting that normal technical prose would shy away from using "even" at all here, I'd say - "The user can specify" is sufficient - depending on context).


You have several questions here. Let's see if we can tackle them one by one.

"Several" and "multiple" both mean two or more. Either is acceptable here, and in context I think they would mean the same thing. Maybe, possibly, "several" would tend to make people think of a small number, 2 or 3 or 4; while "multiple" could imply a larger number. At some point we'd say "many" or some other word clearly indicating a large number.

An adverb usually comes after the verb it modifies, so "can even" is more common and "normal" than "even can". But both are acceptable.

"Labels and variables" is trickier. It really depends on what the reader is likely to assume. I'd say that the concept, the idea of a name/value pair, is a variable. It then has a name and a value. So I'd say "multiple variables", or "multiple name/value pairs", or "label/value pairs" if you prefer. If the reader can be expected to understand that every variable has a name and a value, or if you've already explained this, then you don't need to spell this out. I often write simply "multiple variables". If this could be confusing, if the reader might think that "multiple variables" means that you are just going to give a list of variable names, then yes, say "name/value pairs". Or explain it more fully, like, "pairs of names and values separated by an equal sign", or "a string of variable assignments, each given as a name, an equal sign, and a value, terminated by a semi-colon". Or however much explanation is appropriate in context.


I also find the substitution of "multiple" for "several" to be clunky. Multiple is best used in a mathematical or technical context. Multiple DOES "lend more dynamics to the number of times from a single source" while several is more appropriate in other contexts. Words are often hijacked and misused to lend authority or cachet to speech. While being allowable, they are often not appropriate. This habit of substituting what the speaker believes to be the "smarter" word has the effect of undermining useful distinctions among terms. It is not judgmental to want to preserve these distinctions. These choices are a matter of style as is the choice to wear plaid pants with a polka dot shirt and a flowered vest. Sometimes it works; often it's dorky.


When did multiple take over "several" in our lexicon? Several is a more appealing sound and presentation, especially in context of several "sources", several "reasons", etc., inferring more strongly, I feel, different sources lending to the conclusion or affect to the event.

Multiple lends more dynamics to the number of times from a single source. For example, multiple gun shot wounds; multiple gun shot wounds from several assailants.

More descriptive, more clarity.

  • 1
    Yes, perhaps, but in this context, assuming the users can insert as many variables as they want to, saying "several" implies a limitation on how many they can insert that's not actually there. As mentioned in Matthew's answer, several implies a relatively small number.
    – cjl750
    Jun 26, 2017 at 14:37
  • Implying, not inferring.
    – Chenmunka
    Jun 26, 2017 at 15:01

When did "multiple" begin to replace "several" or "numerous"; as in, "multiple police officers arrived on the scene"? It sounds awkward and, frankly, illiterate to me. What on earth is a "multiple policeman"? I would argue that multiple implies more than one iteration of an identical (or similar) thing. Several means a bunch of things, similar or not. Both are plural modifiers and in certain contexts, I suppose, several could indicate a smaller quantity of things than multiple. This is a fairly recent development in casual English usage and I find it grating. It makes me think poorly of the person using it.

  • OED shows usages back as far as the 1800s, like this one from 1879: This problem is essentially determinate, but generally has multiple solutions. And obviously a phase like "multiple police officers" shouldn't be parsed into "multiple policeman" any more than "several police officers" would be. In any case, it might be time to stop being so judgmental, because it appears to be gaining traction in published works.
    – J.R.
    Nov 24, 2019 at 0:49

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