Mostly people say "too much apoptosis can lead to cancer" or "too much photosynthesis". However would it be wrong to say "many apoptoses" or "too many a apotosis" or "too many apoptoses"?

The first one does not sound so weird to me, but the other two sound so strange, but I cannot seem to find something grammatically wrong. Generally speaking, I feel that only much is used to refer to scientific phrases describing what happens.

Also, people say things such as "too close a contact", but can you say "too many a something (singular)"?

2 Answers 2


Countable nouns are nouns that can be counted; e.g. dog, person, child, dollar, etc. If you have more than one of these, you can line them up and count them. If you have more of them than you require, you can say you have too many of them.

Uncountable nouns are nouns that cannot be counted; e.g. water, air, power, money, etc. You cannot line these up and count them. If you have more of them than you need you have to say you have too much of them.

The word apoptosis is both a countable and an uncountable noun. As the general term for 'programmed cell death' it is uncountable. The cell is either totally and permanently dead and unable to be revived, or it is not. Confusingly, a pathway that causes apoptosis is also called an 'apoptosis'; these pathways are countable. There are many apoptosis pathways by which the apoptosis state can be brought about, and those pathways can and have been counted, but there is only one state of total and permanent cell death.

Like all uncountable nouns, we can talk about 'too much apoptosis' (ie too many cells within an organism have entered the apoptotic state), but we cannot talk about 'too many apoptosis'. Note: we can talk about 'too many apoptoses', meaning too many pathways by which a cell can become apoptotic but, as discussed, the pathway and the final state are two different things.

The word 'photosynthesis' is an uncountable noun as well, so the above discussion applies to this word as well.

I have never heard the expression 'too close a contact', which is not to say that it does not exist, so I cannot assist with this.

I cannot think of a way of using 'too many a something' that would be regarded as acceptable, standard English. I could imagine it being used informally in regional areas, or in rustic expressions such as:

There's been too many a good soldier lost to incompetent leadership.

There's too many a young lad a'courtin' the lasses, 'n not enough bringin' in the harvest.

Hopefully, someone else on the forum may be able to assist youwith those other matters.


Only focussing on too many a: I don't think this phrase exists, or if it does it is very rare. I think you are conflating two different expressions.

1) Adjectives can of course be modified by too: "too big", "too heavy", "too numerous". But if you want to use these expressions in a noun phrase, it is awkward. "A too-big jacket" is something people might say, but most people wouldn't accept it in a formal context. On the other hand "too big a jacket" is the prescriptively correct form to use, but it is not something that most people would say in normal speech. I don't think there is a general everyday form, and people will tend to paraphrase: "a jacket that is too big". Nevertheless, this is where you can find too X a Y.

2) Normally, a quantifier like many does not take an article: "many people", "many occasions". It can quite readily be further modified with too: "too many people". There is a rather archaic construction many a, which takes a singular noun: "many a reader". (It often has a slightly different connotation from simple "many", but I'm struggling to characterise that difference.) But I do not think that this construction can take too.

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