8

This is from a CNN article:

As many as 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing will walk out across England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Thursday.

When I read the sentence, "as many as" seems to have the same meaning as "almost/nearly/around/about 100.000 nurses". But I am not quite sure; maybe we should only use it if the number after "as many as" is a very high number such as this 100000. Is that really so?

Would it sound unnatural if one said "I lost as many as 3 kg?"

1
  • They mean the same thing. "About" You'd say ".. as much as three kg".
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 15:36

3 Answers 3

3

In my opinion as many as in this case is referring to uncertainty.

It's like my car can drive as many as 10km on a single litre of fuel. This would likely mean, under perfect environmental and road conditions, driving a steady slow speed in a straight line, you can drive for 10km. But if these conditions are not met, then you will not reach that amount.

In the example, that number is probably the upper limit of a very uncertain estimate (plus a little bit for dramatic effect).

almost and nearly would mean you were pretty close but just under the number, probably around 90k-100k.

around and about would mean that number plus or minus a small amount, probably around 95k-105k.

All in all, the phrase basically means nothing. Yes there could be 100k nurses leaving, but it could just be a thousand or so. Any of the alternative words you suggested are far more specific, and would imply a greater sense of certainty. Reading that phrase (and knowing a little of the CNN) I would guess that they would probably think between 0 and 70k nurses would leave.


Though the phrasing is slightly weird and you would probably need context, your example of losing as many as 3kg still wouldn't make too much sense because there isn't really any uncertainty, as you would most likely know about how much weight you lost. So 'around' would make more sense. Something like "I plan on losing as many as 3kg (of fat)" would still be kind of awkward phrasing ("up to" would be better here), but would make sense at least. As it conveys you are trying to lose weight and have a limit on how much you can/want to lose.

Perhaps it would make sense in the positive direction (lost at least 3kg) and more-so if the person saying that would be referring to someone else, as there is uncertainty in that case; "wow, you look like you've lost at least 3kg"

6
  • 1
    "only use it if [we want] the number after "as many as" [to be] very high [so that we get the highest knee-jerk we can get in a headline]." All in all, the phrase basically means nothing. +1. Anywhere from zero to one hundred thousand.
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 10:55
  • The number seems like it's coming from RCN's own press release — I presume the uncertainty is that, until the actual day of the strikes, they don't know how many of their members will take part. Their membership is >430K so I presume the "as many as"/"up to" are referring to the fact that 100K is the upper bound of people represented by the RCN currently in a dispute with the government (e.g. some subset of the 430K who work in England, for the NHS etc) Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 13:33
  • The idiom "as many as" is DEFINITELY approximate. So YES it can be "even a little higher than that".
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 15:37
  • 1
    As Boba Fit says, ‘as many as’ also emphasises the magnitude of the number, with a slight implication that you might not otherwise expect it to be so large.
    – gidds
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 18:12
  • Aequitas, regarding the "3kg". It would be common to utter that in a context like: "Hmm, control group A lost as many as 8, even 9 kg in the first week ..." And also a detail, I believe you could say "many" rather than "much" if it's a larger counting-ish number (say, 9, 10, 20), but (OP) in general it would be "much" for a non-counting substance.
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 22:29
10

Literally, "as many as 100,000 nurses" means "up to 100,000 nurses", not "almost/nearly/around/about".

In a news story, "as many as" is typically weasel words that actually mean something like "the highest number among the various estimates we have". In other words, the true number is probably lower than 100,000, but that's the most impressive number they can justify using.

"As many as" also sometimes carries the nuance of surprise or astonishment at the size of a number. So if CNN is using it, it means they want the viewers to understand that this is a significantly large number.

So about your weight loss joke. Since "weight" is uncountable, the joke would be phrased, "I lost as much as 3 kg!" And yes, it would be funny, partly because 3 kg is not an astonishingly high number, but mostly because "as many as" means 3 kg is the highest possible estimate, which implies that the true number is probably a lot lower, so it sounds like you're trying to make losing a mere 1 kg sound significant. And that's hilarious!

13
  • Does 'as many as' imply 'no less than', that is, possibly more than?
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:42
  • @Michael No, it means there is line in the sand at that number and no number beyond it is part of it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:45
  • @Michael No. "As many as" indicates the maximum possible value.
    – gotube
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 18:13
  • Exactly--"as many as" is frequently used to exaggerate. We expect a dozen people to be affected by action X, but if we admit that, nobody will care. So instead we check some stats, and find that "as many as" two hundred thousand could theoretically be affected, so that's what ends up in the news. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 8:57
  • Except the article doesn't say "as many as 100.000 nurses could walk out", but "as many as 100.000 nurses will walk out". So if they actually expect the number to be lower than 100.000, they're outright lying. It's true that "as many as" is often employed by people who are exaggerating or outright lying, but the literal meaning of "as many as 100.000" is not "at most 100.000". Also, losing 3kg in a short period can be pretty impressive.
    – Stef
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 13:00
2

All of these have overlapping meaning and are very similar. They have slightly different meanings.

  • "As many as" means the number with emphasis or surprise at how big the number is. "We had 10 guests for dinner last night." "As many as that?" expressing surprise.
  • Almost and nearly suggest that it is quite close but not quite the quoted number.
  • Around and about suggest it could be slightly bigger or smaller.

For the last example it should be "I lost as much as 3 kg" since weight loss is not a digital thing. You don't want a counting word but a quantity word. And here it is similar to the "as many as" in that it expresses emphasis or surprise.

3
  • Does 'as many as' imply 'no less than', that is, possibly more than?
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:42
  • @Michael, no, I think of "as many as" as meaning "less than or equal to." Think of the phrase in the context of "could be as many as," and it makes a little more sense. This in contrast to "as few as," which would mean "greater than or equal to." Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 23:39
  • @Michael it is APPROXIMATE. So it could be A BIT MORE than the number given.
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 15:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .