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I have a test with the following question. I was pretty sure that the correct answer is "few" but the test says that the answer is "much".

Is it right?

Wrong answer?

  1. There are many clocks in the office but _____ of them work properly.

    • little
    • few
    • much
    • a little

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Oct 23 '15 at 17:22

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

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    The test is wrong. It's an online test, am I right? They bungle things up. Write them an email pointing out the (computer) error, the answer is of course, as you rightly surmised, few. – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 '15 at 10:42
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a computer/programme error. – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 '15 at 10:43
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    Just because this came from a computer doesn't make it off-topic. If the OP had lied and said a school-teacher had said it, would that make it on-topic? – chasly from UK Oct 23 '15 at 10:54
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    Here's the best piece of advice you will hear all life: if you want to learn English, never, ever take any tests. No native speaker ever took a test to learn English. In fact they all acquired fantastic command of the language before they even learned the word test existed. I suggest you do likewise. – ЯegDwight Oct 23 '15 at 11:19
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    @TimLymington, You say, "it's off-topic because it's about a test". I read those links and they don't back up your argument at all. If you want to say it's off-topic because it belongs in ELL then fine. I see that people are saying it is off-topic because it is a software error. That is utter nonsense and shows no understanding of computers. I'm sure the software is working perfectly. The error came from a human putting in the wrong data when setting up the test. This is a classic case of confusing the medium with the message. – chasly from UK Oct 23 '15 at 17:00
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The sentence is in two clauses, joined with but. That means that the second clause must qualify the first and negate its assertion.

The quantifier in the first clause is many, so the second clause must use a word or phrase which does not mean (or is the opposite of) many.

Many expresses a large number of countable objects, so the second clause needs a word which expresses a small number of countable objects.

That word is few.

Little and a little are used for amounts of mass nouns: a little mashed potato, and oppose much or a lot. Neither is appropriate here because clocks is countable.

You were right, and the test answer is wrong.

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The test is wrong.

COUNTABLE

Clocks are countable nouns (things that can be individually counted). Countable nouns can be quantified with few or many.

Either of these sentences would be grammatically complete:

There are many clocks in the office but few of them work properly.

There are many clocks in the office but many of them work properly.

The second sentence sounds a little awkward, due to the repetition of many, but it is grammatically fine. Maybe you asked your clock repairman if it would take a long time to repair all the clocks in the building. He responds "Not long - There are many clocks, but many of them are working fine [and don't need repair.]"

UNCOUNTABLE

Suppose instead you were discussing sand on the floor. Sand is not generally thought of as countable, and you would use little or much.

There is a lot of sand in my goldpan but little of it is likely to contain any gold.

The winds weren't too strong. There is a lot of sand on the office but much of it was tracked in by the dog after the storm was over.

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    +1 This more complete than my very similar answer so I have deleted mine. – chasly from UK Oct 24 '15 at 17:43

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