Amount vs. number?

Use amount to reference mass nouns (an uncountable quantity of something). Use number to cite count nouns (a countable quantity of something).

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What is the difference between amount and number?

The words amount and number pretty much mean the same thing: a quantity of something. But despite their similarities, English writers cannot use these terms interchangeably. 

The noun number only references count nouns because it references the entire sum of something we can count. In most cases, we use “number” to answer “how many?” instead of “how much?

The word amount references mass nouns (aka “noncount nouns”) because it represents a general, vague, or unknown quantity of something that is often intangible or indefinitely immeasurable. 

In other words, the noun “amount” doesn’t give an approximate quantity to the question “how many?” –– but it can provide a general answer for “how much?” 

What is an amount of something?

The word amount is a verb or noun, but when we’re describing an “amount of something,” we only want to use the noun form. In this case, we can define the noun in two ways:

  1. The total number or quantity of something tangible or considered. 
  2. The entirety of something’s effect, legacy, or significance. 

Sentence examples: 

  • “I didn’t see the exact amount, but I know it’s a lot.”
  • “These cookies have a good amount of sugar.” 
  • “Teaching requires a certain amount of charisma.”
  • “My cat demands an indefinite amount of attention.” 
  • “The newsletter requires an inordinate amount of work.”

Additional phrases of amount

Many times, we find the word amount in phrases like “no amount of” or “any amount of.” For example, 

  • “No amount of hate will make the situation better.”
  • “Any amount of coins will make me happy.” 

In this case, quantifiers like “no” and “any” modify the word amount to mean “not even the greatest possible amount of” or “a great deal or number of” (thank you, Lexico). 

Synonyms of amount

Aggregate, bulk, consignment, load, measure, number, quantity, quantum, quota, size, sum, total, volume, weight.

What is a number of something?

Number” also occurs as a verb or noun, but when describing a “number of something,” the noun is defined as: 

  1. The quantity, amount, or sum of determinable units; any indefinite total or large sum.
  2. A group of people or the “many” of such; a symbol or figure that represents a person or thing. 

Most dictionaries break down the definition of number into several minuscule definitions, but it is easier to understand the noun when we see that it can be:

  • A tangible total (e.g., five, fraction, attendance size, or the sum of an equation, etc.) or;
  • A figurative amount or sum (similar to quantifiers like “several” or “many”).   

Sentence examples: 

  • “Do you know the number of plants we need for the garden?” 
  • “There are a number of people on Facebook and Twitter who don’t care about privacy.”
  • “We saw a number of women with their hands in their pockets.” 
  • “Did you see the number of device plans they have?” 
  • “A number of protesters were arrested in London.”

Additional phrases of number

English speakers use the same definitions of number for phrases like “any number of” or “without number.” For example, 

  • “We can read this book any number of ways.” 
  • “Online classes can theoretically fit any number of students.” 
  • “I thought about you every day without number.”

Look familiar? We thought so. 

According to Lexico, we use “any number of” to mean “any particular whole quantity of something” or “a large unlimited quantity or amount of something.” In other words, it essentially describes a ‘variety or plethora of different options.’ As for “without number,” this phrase simply means “too many to count.” 

Synonyms of number

Amount, digit, diverse, figure, fraction, integer, numeral, quantity, several, sum, total, various, whole.

How to use amount vs. number in a sentence?

According to Garner’s Modern English Usage, we distinguish “amount” from “number” by the types of quantities they cite: amount references mass nouns, while number references countable nouns (Garner 46). 

What is a countable noun?

The word number references count nouns, which are singular or plural nouns representing a countable quantity of something. Purdue OWL provides a helpful tutorial that distinguishes three types of countable nouns: 

  • Concrete nouns
  • Collective nouns
  • Proper nouns

Concrete nouns

A concrete noun is any noun we can experience through sight, hearing, smell, touch, or taste. However, concrete nouns are only “countable” if we can use them as singular or plural. Common examples include words like eye/eyes, hand/hands, paper/papers, dollar/dollars, siren/sirens, rose/roses, or banana/bananas

Concrete nouns like rice, oil, or water are technically mass nouns, so we wouldn’t use the word number to reference these particular terms. 

For example:

  • “Do you know the number of roses I need to buy?” (correct)
  • “Do you know the number of salt I need to buy?” (incorrect)

Collective nouns

Collective nouns are singular nouns that reference a group of people or things, such as flock, team, herd, pack, crowd, or audience. But while collective nouns are singular at heart, we can use them as plural nouns for specific situations. 

For example:

  • “The show drew a large audience.” (singular)
  • “The show attracted audiences from around the world.” (plural)

Proper nouns

Proper nouns represent the formal, capitalized name or title of any person, place, or thing. The noun number can reference proper nouns that are countable and expressible as singular or plural. 

For example: 

  • “I have a number of Vogues that I need to recycle.”
  • “Do you know the number of Scandanavians who immigrated to Astoria?”

What is a mass noun?

The word amount references mass nouns (noncount nouns), which are singular terms that represent an uncountable quantity of something. Similarly to countable nouns, we can divide mass nouns into two categories: 

  • Abstract nouns
  • Uncountable concrete nouns

Abstract nouns

An abstract noun represents an intangible thing, such as an idea, the quality of something, or even an emotion. Examples of abstract, uncountable nouns include jealousy, wealth, anxiety, bravery, education, or customer service.

Abstract nouns are always singular unless we use the same word to describe a countable thing. For instance, “comfort” is an abstract noun when it describes a state of comfortability. But if we use “comfort” to describe items or experiences that bring comfort, the plural form is countable. 

For example,

  • “I’ve enjoyed a great amount of comfort in my life.” (noncount noun)
  • “I’ve enjoyed a great number of comforts in my life.” (count noun)

Uncountable concrete nouns

As mentioned before, concrete nouns are people, places, or things that we can experience through taste, hearing, sight, or touch. However, not all concrete nouns are countable, making them mass nouns instead of countable nouns. 

Common examples of noncount nouns include food, water, time, oil, rice, sand, air, energy, art, or money. As you might expect, we only use noncount nouns in the singular form. But similarly to abstract nouns, some contexts allow a noncount noun to achieve a plural, countable form. 

For example: 

  • “I’ve studied a good amount of art.” (noncount noun)
  • I’ve worked with a number of arts and culture writers.” (count noun)

Should I write “number of people” or “amount of people”?

On the topic of count nouns and noncount nouns, many students ask The Word Counter whether they should write “number of people” or “amount of people.” It’s easy to see why these statements are confusing, especially since it’s common to hear both phrases in casual English. 

However, we shouldn’t forget that the word “people” is the plural form of singular “person.” And since “people” is a plural noun, the correct phrasing to write is “number of people,” not “amount of people.” 

For example: 

  • “There are a large number of people here.” (correct)
  • “There are a large amount of people here.” (incorrect)

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between amount and number with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false?: Both amount and number can represent a large quantity of something. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. __________ reference people, places, or things we can’t count.
    a. Count nouns
    b. Noncount nouns
    c. Mass nouns
    d. B and C
  3. Amount and number are commonly confused words that are both __________.
    a. Verbs
    b. Nouns
    c. Quantifiers
    d. A and B
  4. Which of the following is not a synonym of the noun amount.
    a. Whole
    b. Sum
    c. Various
    d. Quantity
  5. Which of the following statements is incorrect?
    a. She bought a large number of mangoes. 
    b. There are a large number of camels at the zoo. 
    c. We have a large quantity of mangoes. 
    d. A large number of women joined the online community.
  6. Which of the following statements is incorrect? 
    a. This job requires a rigorous amount of energy.  
    b. We enjoyed a good amount of sugar. 
    c. Do you know the amount of people who attended? 
    d. There is a large amount of work to complete. 

Answers

  1. A
  2. D
  3. D
  4. C
  5. C
  6. C

Sources

  1. Amount.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  2. Amount.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  3. Count and Noncount Nouns (with Articles and Adjectives).” Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, 2021.
  4. Garner, B. “Amount; number.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 46.
  5. Number.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021. 
  6. Number.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.