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.

Number

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.)

Amount

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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