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Amounting to Something

I’ve run across a lot of misuse of “amount” lately and thought I’d give a quick tip for when to…

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I’ve run across a lot of misuse of “amount” lately and thought I’d give a quick tip for when to use “amount” and when to use “number.” In short, if you can count the thing you’re talking about, you’ll generally want to use “number.” If it’s a collective thing that you would never assign a number to, you’ll use “amount.”

So for example, you would never say “I have seven water,” and so it’s correct to say “I was so parched that no amount of water would slake my thirst.”

But you might say “ten thousand golden daffodils,” and so you would never say “I had never seen that amount of daffodils in my life.” Instead, you would say “I had never seen that number of daffodils in my life” (or, since that’s awfully stilted, “I had never seen so many…”).

A minor point of possible confusion is when you’re taking a collective noun like “water” and parceling it out into countable portions. If you’re talking about cups of water, then the modifier here attaches to “cups” and not “water.” Since you can count cups, it would be correct to write about the number of cups rather than the amount of cups of water.

For a related topic, see my post of six months ago on the distinction between “less” and “fewer.”

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  1. As an English teacher and a blogger I cringe every time I see this misused in others’ blogs … Thanks for highlighting it (along with the less/fewer post). After all, why shouldn’t we aim for good grammar?

  2. OMG I love your blogs! Especially the grammatical ones. Grammar seems to have gone the way of the Dodo! If you need another topic, perhaps the qualifying of the word ‘unique’. Things are not ‘very unique, truly unique or really unique’. They are unique. Full stop. Oops – let my inner voice get out again.

  3. Love, love, love your bringing out the grammar police billy club about such things! (I know, that sentence was not particularly grammatical… Apologies…)

    I also wanted to comment on the “less than” versus “fewer,” but comments are closed. Seriously, that is one of my biggest pet peeves! I don’t know why people don’t get it, but then again, I am in deep, passionate love with grammar. I suppose I can’t expect them to understand…

    Thanks for trying to enlighten the world.