So I'm in class one day and I try to initiate a headcount of everyone in my class and so I decide to ask openly and say "How many are we?". But to my absolute shock I had some other person (along with a couple others more) telling me the question didn't make sense (grammatically) because I should've said "How many people are in the class/ take this class ?" I chose not to debate on the subject because I thought it was an American English thingy (like every thingy) but I still need to clear it up because I feel I was without error.

  • many is a determiner and pronouns do not normally take a determiner. It's unidiomatic to say *the he, *my he, *a we. – user178049 Sep 8 '17 at 1:40
  • Rewording a sentence doesn't make the original grammatically wrong. You should ask them what specifically is wrong with it. I may not be commonly used, but it's grammar is fine. – user3169 Sep 8 '17 at 2:05
  • 1
    How many are we? is grammatical. – green_ideas Sep 8 '17 at 3:27

How many are we?

would not be a common way to say what you were trying to say, and sounds weird. I think you were trying to say something along the lines of

How many of us are there?

which is still shorter than your classmate's suggestions but sounds better.

I can't quite put my finger on why How many are we? sounds wrong, but it definitely does.

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  • I think it's grammatically correct, but I agree that it sounds unusual. I think it sounds unusual for two reasons: (1) It sounds kind of formal or literary, which is out of place in a classroom context, and (2) it could sound like a partial sentence. The listener might expect to hear something like "how many are we [going to see]?", for instance, but the sentence just suddenly stops short. – Dangph Oct 17 '17 at 7:23

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