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I read on the Internet that "many" is formal and "a lot of" is informal, but in certain sentences, I prefer to use one of these regardless of their level of formality. For example, when they come at the beginning of the sentence, I tend to use "a lot of", as in:

A lot of tourists visit my country.

I wonder if the alternative sentence, i.e.: "Many tourists visit my country" sounds just as good to a native speaker. I could be wrong, but "a lot of" seems to be more emphatic than "many" and I get the feeling that "a lot of" refers to a much greater number than "many". Does my feeling have any ground in reality or do the two mean exactly the same?

How do native speakers choose between the two? Are the two always interchangable when used with countable nouns?

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  • Have you checked dictionaries for the meanings of "a lot of" and "many", and compared them? Mar 29, 2022 at 7:08
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    If you want to add extra emphasis, you could say a great many. A lot is definitely informal. Mar 29, 2022 at 7:50
  • In everyday speech, a lot of is very common. I have a lot of money.=common form I have much money.=almost wrong, no one says that. Preferred: I don't have much money or a lot of money.
    – Lambie
    Aug 28, 2022 at 20:44

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I do think that "a lot of" is somewhat more casual (that's the word that I would use) than "many". However, this might vary depending on dialect. Both terms can be found in formal as well as informal speech and writing.

There is no difference in emphasis between the two terms; either can have any level of emphasis.

There is also no difference in number; "a lot of" does not necessarily refer to a greater number than "many".

When you have to choose between the two, consider these factors:

  1. As mentioned above, "a lot of" is often considered a bit more casual than "many".
  2. "Many" is more concise.

Neither of those factors necessarily requires one term over the other, so you will usually be fine with either one.

Finally, keep in mind that "many" can be used only with count nouns, while "a lot of" can be used with count or non-count nouns:

  • "I have a lot of fish." This might mean that I have a large number of fish (individual animals) or I have a large quantity of fish (perhaps mashed up in a paste).
  • "I have many fish." This has only one meaning.

Therefore, using "many" might be clearer in some situations. (However, those situations are rare.)

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