How do these similar words work differently?
All of these words refer to a large quantity of something. Which one(s) you should use depends on what you're talking about.
"Many" is the simplest:
Many is used only for countable nouns. You can use it alone or with adverbs.
Examples of "many":
Many people attended the wedding. (countable noun)
I didn't know many of the songs that the choir sang. (prepositional phrase ending with a countable noun)
So many more people sent gifts instead of attending. (adverb)
There were too many gifts, so the couple did not open any. (adverb)
"A lot" and "Lots" can be used in the same ways (mostly)
and in more ways than "many" and "much":
A lot (of) and lots (of) are used in the same 3 ways: with verbs and with both countable and (3) uncountable nouns. Adverbs are not used with either (you can't say "I like it very a lot," but you can say "I like it a lot.")
By the way, a lot is always two words. "Alot" is always incorrect.
A Lot of/Lots of guests attended the wedding. (countable noun)
There wasn't enough space, so I didn't dance a lot. (verb)
A lot of/Lots of champagne was left after the party. (unaccountable noun)
Not a lot of champagne bottles were left after the party. (countable noun)
"Much" is a bit trickier, so let's learn its rules carefully.
"Much" is used with verbs or uncountable nouns. "Much" is mostly used in negative sentences, with adverbs, or in questions (positive or negative).
I didn't drink much water, so I suffered from lots of dehydration. (negative sentence and uncountable noun)
I ate so much that my stomach hurt (adverb).
I enjoyed the music very much. (adverb)
Did you dance much at the party? (verb and question)
I didn't dance much because there were too many people. (verb and negative sentence)
Less Common Uses for "Much":
"Much" when used in a "positive" sense (without negation) but without an adverb and not as part of a question is not common in modern English.
You will find it in contemporary English only when its purpose is to be charming or old fashioned:
The young man was already rich for he had inherited much money.
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