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What's the difference between 许多 and 很多?

For example, in this sentence I found on Jukuu both terms are used:

After years of teaching, I have many memories to dwell on in idle moments.

过了许多年的教学生涯,我空闲时缅怀的往事很多。

Are both terms interchangeable? One is more formal than the other?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

"很多" is not a word, but an adverb "很" and an adjective "多" combined to form a subordinate phrase. "很" as an adverb, is generally placed before an adjective to indicate a high degree of something. Therefore, "很多" has no particular significance. "很 + adjective" when used to modify the noun generally contains "的", such as:

  • 很好的计划 (a very good plan)
  • 很可爱的孩子 (very cute children)

But "很多", when used to modify the noun, is generally without "的". Such as:

  • 很多人 (many people)
  • 很多地方 (many places)
  • 很多东西 (a lot of things)
  • 很多城市 (many cities)

"许多" is a numeral (数词), meaning in great quantities. "很多" can be disassembled; "许多" cannot. The usage of "很多" is more flexible, and can serve as a predicative, attributive, or complementary component in a sentence. Such as:

  • 南京路上人很多(谓语)
    On Nanjing Road, there are a lot of people (predicate)
  • 我去过很多地方(定语)
    I have been to many places (attributive)
  • 有些人吃得很多,却不爱运动(补语)
    Some people eat a lot, but do not exercise (complement)

"许多", as a numeral, can only be used as an attributive adjunct which generally modifies the noun. Such as:

  • 许多优秀人才 (a lot of talented people)
  • 中国的许多城市 (many cities in China)
  • 那火山已经沉睡许多年 (that volcano has been laying dormant for many years)
  • 许多消费者都不满意 (many consumers are not satisfied)
  • 许多人在生活中离不开手机 (many people cannot live without their mobile phones)

The following statements are wrong when used with "许多":

南京路上人许多(谓语)X
有些人吃得许多,却不爱运动(补语)X

In the dialogue, "很多" can be used alone, but not "许多". Such as:

排队的人多吗?——很多。√
(Is there a lot of people at the queue? - A lot. √ )
排队的人多吗?——许多。X

To answer your question, "许多" is more formal than "很多", and is used more often in writing, whereas "很多" is used often in speech. "许多" can be replaced by "很多", but usually not the other way round:

过了许多(or 很多)年的教学生涯,我空闲时缅怀的往事很多。


Adapted from: “很多”与“许多” - 复旦大学国际文化交流学院

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+1: very nice (adapted) answer –  user2251 Dec 26 '12 at 9:34
    
Thanks a lot for your complete answer! –  dusan Dec 26 '12 at 12:10
  1. The most obvious difference is that 许多 is an adjective, while 很多 could be adjective or adverb.

    When 很多 is used as adverb, 许多 can't be used in that case. They could be interchangeable as adjective.

    Example:

    他每天都吃得很多,可还是不胖。He eats a lot everyday, but still not fat.

    Here, you can't replace 很多 with 许多, but you could say

    他每天都吃许多食物,可还是不胖。

    他每天都吃很多食物,可还是不胖。

    In the examples above, both of them are adjective.

  2. After reading your example, I realize that 很多 could be predicative while 许多 could not, so you can't replace 很多 with 许多 in your example. However, you could say,

    过了许多年的教学生涯,我空闲时缅怀的往事有许多

  3. 很多 is more colloquial so that you could hear it more in ordinary dialogue.

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sorry that i typed the answer on my phone, and IT'S bad TO type with the IME. that's why there are some words with capital letters. can someone help ME format IT? thanks IN advance. –  Huang Dec 26 '12 at 1:20

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