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The Latin word MULTUM gives us an equivalent for the idea of "many" in many modern romance languages. Examples of this are molto, molt, mucho and muito. French however uses the word "beaucoup" to express the idea of "many".

My question is: Does an earlier version of French have a word that is a cognate of multum and also means "many"?

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Yes: moult (Trésor de la langue française, Dictionaire de l'Académie française (latest editions, previous editions didn't list this word), Littré). This word disappeared from common usage in the 16th century in favor of beaucoup.

It may have survived in some regional usage, but other than that people wouldn't use it naturally. I think that a non-negligible proportion of native speakers wouldn't recognize it at all. (I even suspect that more people would recognize [mɔlto] than [mult], let alone the historical pronunciation [mu].)

Historically moult was an adverb meaning beaucoup (a lot), but in modern (post-16th century) literary usage it's mostly used as an adjective meaning beaucoup de (a lot of).

Other derivatives of multum have survived in French through the prefix multi-, which is very common.

  • As a rare synonym of another old-looking word, maintes, moult is being slightly revived in literature and formal speak in the set expressions moult fois since around the eighties. – jlliagre Oct 10 '17 at 22:29
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    I have the feeling "moult" is also slightly revived when used in a humorous tone. Ex: "Il a enfin eu son permis de conduire, après moult essais", where "moult" also conveys that there were many more attempts than reasonably expected, with a bit of mockery. That is at least something I hear among my friends... – Greg Oct 11 '17 at 8:14
  • @Greg Interesting. What region and social groups? I don't think I've ever heard that word, to me it belongs to (old-fashioned) written language only. Do you pronounce it [mu] or [mult]? – Gilles Oct 11 '17 at 9:51
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    @Gilles I am from Brussels (Belgium) but in my opinion, I don't see it as a "regional" usage. It is true I rather expect to hear that among people who belong to middle-upper classes (university degree, etc). I pronounce [mult]. I have found an example of a similar usage here: the author of this blog uses a rather informal, humorous vocabulary and syntax ("bordel", "coloc"), and yet, uses the word "moult" ("Après moultes tentatives, j’ai réussi à m’immiscer dans l’administration du blog de ma colocataire, mouhaha.)" idontthink.fr/vivre-freelance-quotidien-2 – Greg Oct 12 '17 at 8:58
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    I concur with @Greg. Moult usage is rising in the recent decades, is always pronounced phonetically [mult] and agrees in gender and number moultes. – jlliagre Oct 12 '17 at 11:29

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