Many or Multiple?

By Michael Kandel

Multiple is often not a good synonym for many, meaning “a large number,” because multiple has a narrower sense: that many elements or parts belong to or are involved in one thing or one event. The definitions of multiple in the online Merriam-Webster and Merriam-Webster UnabridgedThe American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd edition; and the Oxford English Dictionary all convey the idea of connectedness.

A few examples:

A woman who gave birth to five daughters over eight years has many children.

A woman who delivered five daughters in four minutes by caesarean section had a multiple birth.


A man who broke a leg, wrist, and finger in three separate accidents suffered many broken bones.

A man who broke a leg in three places in a single accident suffered a multiple fracture.


A car that was bought and sold six times has had many owners.

When six people together own one car, their ownership is multiple.


If you are writing multiple only because many seems unsophisticated, consider Bryan Garner’s second essential rule of officialese: “[I]f a longer word (e.g., utilize) and a shorter word (e.g., use) are both available, choose the longer”—lest that admonishing finger point to you.

Work Cited

Garner, Bryan A. “Officialese.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2009, p. 587.

Published 29 February 2016

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