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I'm wondering whether "seem / be like much" means "(seem to) cost a lot" in the following.

  1. items such as paper and pens do not seem (like) much.

  2. This pen seems like too much.

  3. This pen seems very much.

  4. This pen does not seem much.

  5. This pen is not much.

Any constraints at work?

I'd appreciate your help.

  • I can't predict that much is for cost here unless you reveal! – Maulik V Jun 11 '18 at 15:24
  • What are you trying to get at? to not seem like much is not only for cost a lot. In any case, only 1 is grammatical. 2) has a different meaning. Camping with lots of equipment: "Johnny, this camping stove seems like too much." In other words, the Johnny's father does not want to take the camping stove. For 1), items such as paper and pens do not seem like too much [to donate to charity]. – Lambie Jun 11 '18 at 15:32
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Some of them could work, but you need do to set the context. None of them read as having anything to do with price inherently.

Although the exchange:

Customer: "I'm looking for something cheap"

Shopkeeper: "This pen is not much."

is perfectly natural, without the context the sentence doesn't automatically infer price.

Here are some examples:

Context: Cost

"items such as paper and pens do not seem like much, but in an organisation the costs soon add up"

Context: Weight

"items such as paper and pens do not seem like much, but taking unused items out of your schoolbag can make it significantly lighter"

Context: Danger

"items such as paper and pens do not seem like much, but in the hands of an expert they can be deadly weapons"


In addition, not all of the sentences provided work well.

"items such as paper and pens do not seem like much."

This could work, but needs context.

"This pen seems like too much."

This is a little clunky. "This pen seems like too much money." or "This pen seems too much." are more natural sounding.

"This pen seems very much."

No.

"This pen does not seem much."

Yes, with context.

"This pen is not much."

Yes, with context.

1

In the context of a discussion about the cost of things, such statements can indeed allude to cost.

Paper cups, scratch pads, pens, and things of that nature may not seem like much, but in a large office they can really add up.

If you had to tease the meaning of much out, it would be something like "not a large percentage of your consumables budget", and thus generally, not a large percentage of whatever is the subject at hand, or not a large contributor in some other way.

This kind of casual usage where understanding is taken for granted is quite common when the speaker feels that the listener is firmly on the speaker's wavelength.

  • Can the pronoun "they" be replaced by "it" in "Paper cups, scratch pads, pens, and things of that nature may not seem like much, but in a large office they can really add up"? – Apollyon Jun 11 '18 at 22:37
  • Yes, in colloquial speech you might often find it there, not as anaphor for those items previously mentioned but as a vague stand-in for "costs related thereto". Compare things can really add up. What with the moat, the crocodiles, and the hot oil pouring down, things can get pretty dicey when trying to storm that castle. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 12 '18 at 12:17
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"Seem", as used in the context of these sentences, usually means something like "to give the impression of being". From the perspective of an individual person, "seem" can be interpreted as meaning "In my opinion", or "I think".

I would interpret item 1 to mean:

I don't think that paper and pens are expensive.

The remaining four statements are problematic as the grammar is incorrect. I assume that what is meant is:

  1. I think this pen is too expensive.
  2. I think this pen is very expensive.
  3. I think this pen is not expensive.
  4. This pen is not expensive.
1

To not seem like much on its own is not really about cost per se. Please see below.

  • It does not seem like much to ask Johnny to clean up his room once a week.

  • Asking her to drive you to university every week does not seem like much. [implied: to ask]

  • Items like paper and pens do not seem like much. [do not seem very important in some context. For example: do not seem like too much to order in an office or too much to put in a bag of free school supplies. Too much to ask for from a parent, etc.]

  • [Some amount of money] doesn't seem like much when you consider quality. [implied: to pay, does not seem like much to pay]

  • The dress cost $100.00 which doesn't seem like much if you consider why she is buying it. [like much to pay: implied]

  • 50 pens and 10 notebooks do not seem like much. [that number of items do not too large for some purpose]

A sentence can say that a cost "can not seem like much", an amount "can not seem like much", "a quantity** can not seem like much". There it would be about cost, amount or a quantity.

However, if the context is not clear, then, "not seem like much" does not refer to cost, but to some "idea or condition that comes before the utterance in the specific context".

The OP's questions in order are:

1) Items such as paper and pens do not seem (like) much. (grammatical but does not refer to cost. It sounds like: do not seem like much [to order, to put in a knapsack, to ask someone for, etc. etc. etc.])

2) This pen seems like too much. (If someone gives you a gold pen, you might say that. It does not refer to cost. This pens seems like much too (of a gift). Too much to give, too much to reward someone with, etc.)

3) This pen seems very much. [not grammatical at all]

4) This pen does not seem much. [ditto]

This pen is not much. This can refer to cost. And is the only one that could refer to cost without further clarification.

To not be (too) much or to be too much is a spoken language alternative for cost too much. But here the verb is be, and not seem.

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