Old houses are often damp.
Does the sentence mean:
- Many/a lot of old houses are damp.
- Most of old houses are damp.
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"Most" is objective (more than 50%). The rest of the terms in your question ("often", "many", "a lot") are pretty subjective. So your first choice is probably the intended meaning.
"Often" (along with "many" and "a lot") just means more frequently than you would expect, not necessarily more frequently than 50% (which would be "most").
As others have pointed out, the term "often" is subjective. One person might say it often rains in their local city, because it rains once a week, but someone from somewhere it rains daily might call that "infrequent".
Where the intention is ambiguous, it's best to assume to treat this as a general opinion or observation, rather than any specific value. Without further context, "Old houses are often damp," means this a common issue with these houses, and something people should keep in mind when choosing to live in one.
A similar example:
This time of year, we often see whales swimming off the coast.
This doesn't mean it happens every year, or some specific value like "more than 50% of the time". It also doesn't mean that the whales are there but we don't always see them. It simply describes a common, and regularly occurring phenomenon.
It also suggests that people who visit the area hoping to whale-watch might not see them, otherwise we would say:
This time of year, we always see whales swimming off the coast.
One more example:
In San Diego it's often cold and overcast in May and June.
Actually, it's almost always cold and overcast at this time of year, so much so that we have a saying: "May grey; June gloom". However, while it happens many days of the month, I can't predict the weather. I have no idea whether this month will be the same as last year, or whether it will definitely be overcast on May 15th. I'm simply making an observation about a known trend.
often means frequently.
often, never, always, frequently, usually are adverbs.
An adverb cannot be switched to become a noun.
You can have most and lots of and often in the same sentence.
Often above means how people are.
Google Dictionary ad·verb /ˈadˌvərb/ nounGRAMMAR plural noun: adverbs a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. (e.g., gently, quite, then, there ).