A spot of synchronicity. Recently, a non-native speaker asked me about the usage of the English word "much". I had to think about this one, because it's in the territory where native speakers learn in early language acquisition; to non-native learners, it proves to have quite a complicated rule-set for such a simple word.
On first analysis, it seems that in idiomatic standard English, these are the main rules for when "much" is usable as a quantifier:
- with an intensifier:
I liked the film very much. - standard
I liked the film much. - not standard
- in questions:
"Have you much money on you?" - standard
I have much money on me. - not standard
- in negative statements:
There wasn't much food at the party. - standard
There was much food at the party. - non-standard
- with non-countable nouns (subject to the previous constraints):
There wasn't much food at the party. - standard for non-countable
There weren't many plates at the party. - standard for countable
I use "standard" vs. "non-standard" rather than grammatical vs. ungrammatical because this is often a matter of register rather than correctness; on further analysis, there are exceptions. In formal English, "much" is usable in some kinds of positive statements, subject to position.
- We much enjoyed our visit.
but not We enjoyed our visit much.
- Your condolences were much appreciated.
but not Your condolences were appreciated much.
- There is much to be said about the adoption process in the UK (Hansard)
- There is much that is good ... (Hansard)
- We have much to do to prepare for that possible eventuality. (Hansard)
This brings me to the Currys PC World advert embedded above, an extended spoof of the scene when Darth Vader arrives to inspect progress on the Death Star II. The ad ends with Vader saying "You have learned much, young one", a quote from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
It's immediately recognisable as an odd phrase, but one that's proving a puzzle because it goes against a trend. If you look at Google Books Ngram Viewer, you find that similar forms using "much" after a verb are generally archaic ones on the decline: "have seen much", "have heard much", "have said much", "have travelled much", and so on. Yet "have learned much" is a construct that's virtually non-existent in 1800, but has more or less continually increased in print use since then; it appears, then, to be a formalism that has developed in modern times rather than a relic of an archaic one.
Within the Star Wars mythos, why Vader should say this is open to speculation, since it's completely out of his normal range of diction. During his childhood and youth in the films he speaks standard American, representing some regional flavour of Galactic Basic Standard. His change of accent and timbre is explicable by the use of a voice synthesizer - in the mythos, Vader suffered lung damage - but his actual speech pattern remains standard, and not overly formal (for instance, he uses contractions - see the Star Wars wiki). But the isolated weirdness of "You have learned much" represents a formalism beyond even that of other upper-echelon characters. Perhaps it's an acquired idiolect over-compensating for his regional roots?
Stalin springs to mind as an example of a despotic leader with a regional accent. It probably wouldn't have been as impressive as the voice of James Earl Jones, but it would have been authentic to leave Vader's voice as that of the Bristolian Dave Prowse.