# Many and Many of - a subtle difference in meaning?

I’d like to understand the nuances in meaning between many and many of. Unfortunately, the references that I’ve found only explain the difference in grammar usage.

Here are two sentences from a grammar book that touches on that difference but does not explain it fully.

Many tiles in the bathroom are getting discolored from water stains.

According to the author: “Many tiles means more than a few but less than most”. I understand it could any number between 10-49% of the tiles. Would you understand it the same way?

Many of the tiles in the bathroom are getting discolored from water stains.

According to the author: “Many of the tiles implies that a significant number of the tiles have become discolored and that something may have to be done about it”.

What percentage of the tiles should be understood by the significant number? Is it still less than 50% but more than just "many"? Or is it perhaps between 50-70%? Is the difference between many and many of just about the number of the tiles or that something needs to be done about it also plays an important role here?

• Many tiles - a large number of tiles; many of the tiles (somewhere) - a large percentage or fraction of the tiles in that location. 'Large' dependent on many things. If someone wants, or has paid for, a perfect bathroom, that number could be as low as two. What is the grammar book? I don't agree that 'many' must mean 10% to 49%. It has no implication at all of percentage. Commented Aug 14 at 19:15
• For a clearer distinction: "Many lemons went into this lemonade": just makes a statement about the number of lemons used. "Many of the lemons went into this lemonade": talks about some group of lemons, probably the ones we have in the house, and the proportion of them used for lemonade. This one would only work if the context identified that group clearly. Meanwhile, your question about "significant number" can't really be answered. "Significance" depends on the situation. One cancer cell in your blood test is significant; one blood cell is not. Commented Aug 14 at 22:11
• I laughed at "more than a few but less than most ". Not exactly precise. Is it also more than a smidgen but less than manifold? Whatever difference there is between the two isn't really enough to be noticeable imo. Commented Aug 16 at 20:40
• Meaning is created by context. There's nothing about the word "many" that requires "something to be done"; just something about discolored bathroom tiles. Frankly, I find the example unconvincing; you only "need" to replace stained tiles for aesthetic purposes, perhaps if selling the house. A more compelling example might be "Many of the light bulbs in the chandelier are burned out." One burned-out bulb might not demand action, but "many" might mean that it's time to replace them. Commented Aug 22 at 18:36
• It doesn't have to mean that, though (note the author says "something may have to be done"); it could just be an observation. Meanwhile, of course there's nothing about "Many of the lemons went into this lemonade" that necessarily demands action, unless it's important to always have a certain number of lemons on hand. "Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence wore wigs"—so what? There's nothing "to be done about it." Commented Aug 22 at 18:37

In this context and as far as I know, "many ..." and "many of the ..." are equivalent. They're two different ways to phrase the same thing.

How many tiles is many? This is a good question. To some extent, it depends on context. "There were many COVID infections in February" could have meant 1% of the population. But the United States has 330 million people, and 1% of that is 3.3 million. Or it could be ten tiles that were really brown, or 50 tiles that were a bit discolored. Again, depends on context.

If you believe the author was being precise about language, then yes, I suppose you could infer that "many" is less than 50%, or else the author would have said "half the tiles" or "the majority of the tiles" or, better yet, given you a count or percentage of discolored tiles.

Most people simply aren't that precise when they speak. The person speaking the sentence may have not really thought about how many tiles were discolored. It just seemed like a lot, and they spoke imprecisely. People usually aren't precise in common speech no matter what the language, and I'm sure this trips up second language learners around the globe.

If you are in a technical field where there are high stakes, like aviation, that level of precision isn't enough. This is why Aviation English is a thing. For a casual context, it may be enough.

Consider the following sentences:

Many tiles laid on the bathroom floor last year have cracked.

Many of the tiles laid on the bathroom floor last year have cracked.

They have the same practical meaning: a number of tiles have cracked and that number is felt by the speaker to be not a small number but relatively high. It might be only 7 out of 100 but if the speaker expected zero cracked tiles, 7 is 7 too many.

The second form is simply a partitive construction: a subset of a larger set, or a portion of a supply, a part from a whole of some kind.

• Yes, agreed. In other words, the first sentence feels like many in an abstract sense - generally a lot. But the first sentence feels like many compared with how many there are. Commented Aug 15 at 16:10

Put simply, "many X" means a large number, whereas "many of the X" means a large proportion. How large constitutes "many" depends on context.

If the total population (here, the number of tiles in the bathroom) is of moderate size, these probably come out to mean much the same thing. But for very large or small populations, they may be quite different: a small proportion of a very large population can still be a large number, and conversely a small number can be a large proportion of a small population.

• This. It's the difference between an absolute amount and a relative amount.
– Kirt
Commented Aug 16 at 22:58

The tiles in "many tiles" are indefinite, while the tiles in "many of the tiles" are definite. In "many tiles", "many" is a quantifier that communicates indefiniteness (among other things). In "many of the tiles", the article "the" communicates definiteness, and "many" doesn't have a role any more in telling us about the definiteness of the tiles.

That's a grammatical difference, but it isn't one that makes a significant difference to what we can learn from the sentence - unless perhaps we might not have been aware that the bathroom was tiled. So it's probably a poor choice of example on the part of the book's authors.

• That's a grammatical difference, but---. . Other answers say that there's a subtle difference only between the two sentences? Commented Aug 16 at 21:50