Posted by: episystechpubs | May 16, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Amount and Number

The same day I sent out the email about less and fewer, I was in a meeting and heard someone say amount when they should’ve said number. I wrote it down for a future discussion topic, drew a few doodles, and realized that both sets of words cause confusion because of the same thing: the difference between count nouns and non-count (mass) nouns. Today we’ll have a quick look at number and amount, along with a few examples of each.


This should be fairly easy to remember—number is used with count nouns. For example, paperclips, teeth, sombreros, and puppies are count nouns.

· A number of boys were at the bonfire; all of them dressed as Eddie Munster. (You can count boys so you use the word number.)

· We saw a flock of seagulls at the beach. Most of them were light grey, a number of them were white, and one was light brown. (It may be tough, but you can count seagulls—just don’t look up with your mouth open.)


Use amount for non-count nouns. For example, whiskey, anger, and sand are non-count nouns.

· You could see a small amount of blue sky peeking through the black clouds of smoke from the fires. (Since you cannot count “sky,” use the word amount.)

· The rescue crew was generous; they provided an ample amount of water for each family. (As I mentioned the other day, you can count gallons of water, or cups of milk, but in this case water is a non-count noun and requires that the word amount be used as the quantifier.)

Amount can also be a little tricky. Sometimes it is acceptable to use amount to refer to plural count nouns considered as an aggregate, usually encompassing large numbers of something. For example:

· I consider any amount of our tax dollars spent on this project to be a waste. (You can count dollars, but in this case we’re considering everyone’s tax dollars altogether and using the word amount is okay.)

I wish you all a good weekend. Stay cool!

Disclaimer: Spelling and grammar below not approved for human use.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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