>>>My personal inclination is to use "less" with uncountable plurals, but 
>>>I'm frequently corrected.
>>What about "notes"? This word gets confusing, at least for me. What 
>>should you use when someone takes notes? (Many/much, fewer/less?) "Less 
>>notes" sounds wrong, but then I am not altogether comfortable with 
>>"many notes" either. (I would probably say "a lot of notes.")
>     I'm not sure "notes" IS an uncountable plural. Since "fewer notes" 
>sounds right, it must be because "notes" generally can be interpreted to 
>refer to individual, separable, notations as in
>     "Jane wrote notes to all her friends."
>but when referring to a single stream of notations of, say, a lecture,
>one surely can take more or less of them. Perhaps it is the case that in 
>this usage, "notes" really means "notations", a countable plural, and not 
>the resulting mass. 
>     [There does not seem to be a problem with many/much. It's "many".]

There are several problems with "much/many".  One of them is that they
are much more awkward in the affirmative than in the negative.  I don't
know whether you speak American English, but if you do, I'll bet that
you don't in fact say "I took many things to the cleaners" as easily as
"I didn't take many things to the cleaners".

The technical name for this phenomenon (of being OK in the negative
but not in the affirmative) is "negative polarity" -- the metaphor is
a "negative field" with properties not unlike an electric or magnetic
field (though there are as yet no analogues to Maxwell's equations :-).
Other examples of such "Negative Polarity Items" are:

   budge                 He didn't budge. / *He budged.
   a red cent            I don't/*do have a red cent.

   any( )more  It's hard/*easy to find a good bagel any more.
       (except in the American "positive any more" idiolects,
        in which 'any( )more' is equivalent with 'nowadays')

   at all    He won't/*will do his homework at all.

   yet       He hasn't/*has arrived yet.

   in weeks, in ages,    He hasn't/*has been here in ...
   in a coon's age,
   in donkey's years,
   in the longest time

   last long,            This won't/*will last/take/be long.
   take long,            This won't/will  last/take/be a long time.
   be long                                   (But NOT: a long time)

   bother (+ V-ing)      I didn't bother notifying him.
                        *I bothered notifying him.

   can seem to (+ V-inf) I can't/*can seem to find my glasses.

etc.  Granted, these are idiomatic.  But most vocabulary is idiomatic;
that's why it has to be learned individually.

"Notes", in fact, is an excellent example of just the granularity problem
I referred to in another post recently; what students write down in class
is rarely differentiable into discrete, countable units, and therefore
is available for interpretation as mass, with consequent use of "much",
singular verb agreement, "less", etc. by that individual in that context.

The situation, like most situations involving language, is far more
complex and context-sensitive -- and involves *far* more individual
variation -- than a single, simple, arbitrary rule can possibly prescribe

Oh, and by the way, "a lot", since it sidesteps the mass/count
dimension,  can be used confidently here.  Why make distinctions you
don't need to?

--- Followup:

>:     This may be a regional difference.  I have always thought how nice
>: it would be if each a.u.e. contributor would indicate in their
>: signature file the part of the world they are from.  We who do so seem
>: to be a small minority.
>For whatever it's worth, I grew up on Long Island, spend a number of 
>years in Boston, and now live in Manhattan. However, I have just had 
>houseguests for the last 3 days; although one is from North Carolina and 
>the other, from Illinois, both use "many" as often as I do.
>Also, I find nothing awkward about the example you cite as stilted: 
>"There were not a lot of people at the party." In fact, I've probably 
>made that statement after one or two bad parties I've attended. ;-) 
>Other negative statements that sound quite natural to me include:
>     She did not bring a lot of clothes with her.
>     There were not a lot of cars on the road last night.
>     He isn't working with a whole lot of brain cells.
>In other words, when speaking I use "many" and "a lot of" almost 
>interchangeably; so do most people I know. ("A whole lot of" is more 
>emphatic.) I'd probably use either term in informal writing, such as 
>e-mail letters to friends. However, I doubt that I would ever use "a lot 
>of" in formal writing; it's much too imprecise.

I'm from the Midwest, myself.  The claim isn't, by the way, that "a lot
of" can't be used in the negative - it can and is.  The claim is that
"much" and "many" are Negative Polarity Items.  Which is to say that
many if not most people do not use them outside negative environments
most of the time.  I haven't done any counts on this; it's not my
research field, but I'd bet a text count would show a strong
correlation.  Individual uses are entirely possible. Are you counting
all the times you *don't* use "many"?

And what about the question I posed in the original post?  *Do* you in
fact say "I took many things to the cleaner" as easily as you say "I
didn't take many things to the cleaner"?  It's possible.

Your mileage may vary.  All I can say is that that's what people
learning English are taught - check any ESL textbook. Native speakers,
of course, make our own rules, and, since we all like that privilege, we
rarely notice and readily fill in what we'd actually expect.  Plus,
individual usage *does* vary.

A couple of things -- one, questions are considered "negative" in
this context, since they can trigger polarity items:

    Did he eat anything?   vs     *He ate anything.

Two, "as many as" is a fixed phrase, rather than a quantifier
usage, and fixed phrases often lose some of the properties of
their constituents, as when we speak of the Toronto Maple Leafs,
even though we all know the plural of "leaf" is "leaves".  "The
Maple Leaves" is just wrong. And "a long time" isn't an NPI, while
"take/last long" is; polarity is a very peculiar business.

Three, use of "many" and "much" in the affirmative (*True* affirmative --
no incorporated negatives like "doubt", no presupposed negatives like
"surprised", no equatives, comparatives, superlatives, questions,
"if"-clauses, etc, etc) is not ungrammatical, just deselected.
"A lot/lots of" is more frequently used instead, because it neutralizes
the count/mass distinction.  Why or whether that has to do with
affirmative / negative is something of a mystery.  If you're
interested further, *the* authoritative book on the subject is
Larry Horn's _The Natural History of Negation_.

I guess that's more than a couple of things.  Sorry.

--- More followup (quoting me in the post above as ">>" here)

>>I'm from the Midwest, myself.  The claim isn't, by the way, that
>>"a lot of" can't be used in the negative - it can and is.  The claim
>>is that "much" and "many" are Negative Polarity Items.  Which is to
>>say that many if not most people do not use them outside negative
>>environments most of the time.  I haven't done any counts on this;
>>it's not my research field, but I'd bet a text count would show
>>a strong correlation.  Individual uses are entirely possible.
>>Are you counting all the times you *don't* use "many"?
>This seems to be a case of hot air hiding behind fancy terminology.
>Saying most people don't use them outside negative environments most
>of the time is basically saying nothing. How about explaining *why*
>people don't normally use them outside negative environments? Then
>we'd be getting somewhere.

Well, description has to precede explanation, otherwise we don't know
what we're explaining, right?  And technical vocabulary is often a
property of both description and explanation.  If I used terminology
that's too technical to satisfy you in an explanation, I apologize.  In
my defense, I could offer the fact that, as my newsreader insists on
telling me, "This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout
the entire world."  And it's a little difficult to calibrate one's
terminology to suit everybody simultaneously.

And, just to get it off my chest, let's not be so quick to attribute
hypocrisy to something that uses terms you don't understand, eh?
Hot water I'll accept, though.

>>A couple of things -- one, questions are considered "negative" in
>>this context, since they can trigger polarity items:
>Stretching the terminology somewhat, aren't we?

Indeed, though not as far as you may think.  I was using "negative" in a
technical sense, including a set of phenomena that happens to include
all the things everybody would agree were "negative" by traditional
grounds, and also some things people would agree on reflection were
"negative" in some sense -- in meaning if not always in form, *and*
quite a number of other constructions, idioms, and words that aren't
obviously "negative" but behave the same way with regard to negative
polarity (the capitals aren't necessary; I used them to indicate that
they had a special [technical] sense).
Since you ask, here's a moderately complete list of polarity items,
along with a list of environments that "trigger" them.  As Tufte
suggests, "To clarify, add detail".  Make what you wish of them.

 I. Negative Polarity Items         II.  Negative Triggers
  any ( ~ ever)                    | a) NEGATIVES PROPER
  budge                            |    not (immediately commanding
  red cent                         |          a clausemate target)
  in weeks, in ages,               |       (immediately commanding
    in a coon's age,               |         a non-clausemate)
    in the longest time            |       (commanding non-immediately
  until  (with punctual            |       (transported non-incorporated)
  predicates)                      |    transported incorporated:
  much, many                       |      doubt, improbable, unlikely
  yet                              |    incorporated in vb/adj: dislike,
  need / dare  (as modals)         |    dissatisfied, prevent, dissuade
  at all                           |    neg frequency adverbs: seldom, rarely
  any more                         |    neg degree adverbs: hardly,
  (be) all that (+ adj/adv)        |      barely, scarcely
  too (= very)                     |    keep (+ from)
  bother (+ V-ing)                 |    only
  last long, take long, be long    |    not many
     (but not *a long time*)       |    few (but not *a few*)
  can seem to                      |
  care to                          | b) OTHERS
  mind (+ V-ing)                   |    QUESTIONS:
  but (that / what)                |     yes/no questions
  do a thing, bat an eye,          |     negative questions
     lift a finger, drink a drop,  |     wh- questions
     give/be worth (a) shit/damn,  |     tag questions
     ...  (V + minimal DO idioms)  |     embedded questions (whether = if)
  can help (X-self) (+ V-ing)      |     the question of ___
  the hell, the fuck, in the world |    IF-CLAUSES:
    ...to speak of                 |     when-clauses
___________________________________+     embedded whether-questions
 MISCELLANEOUS:                          wh-X-ever clauses
  before (counterfactually),            COMPARATIVES:(in than-clauses only)
    by the time                          less-comparatives
  almost                                 lexical comparative: prefer
  surprised                              idiomatic comparative:
  too                                       would rather
  odd, strange                           equative: at least as ___ as ___
  hard, tough, difficult, a bitch        equative: exactly as ___ as ___
  unless, except(ing)                    superlative (in of-phrases only)
  lack, (be) missing, (be) without        no more/not any more  than ___ 
  beyond                                     not much ___-er
  chances (be) 1 in 100 / 100 to 1 that ___ 
  lexical superlatives: first, last, ultimate

This is just a list, of course; there are qualifications and limitations
on each of these. They don't all just work right out of the box.
Some assembly required.  Batteries not included.  Your mileage may vary.

The pattern is fairly clear, I think; and the phenomenon does suggest
that "negation" is rather more broadly defined *in English* than might
be expected as a semantic concept, not just in grammar.

Which, I think, is something like what you said.  The "meaning" of
a word or construction is clearly a major factor in what words it
may and may not be used with.  Though a dictionary definition of
"any" doesn't begin to get close to what it "means", and certainly
doesn't account for the fact that (say)

     *I've already said anything about this.

is ungrammatical.  It all has to be laid out and put back together
so it works.

 -John Lawler                     More grammar
  Linguistics Program   University of Michigan
 "..and, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing."