Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Amount" and "Number"

I will rate each set of confusing words as to their “distractibility,” that is, the degree to which readers will be distracted from the writers' meaning if they fail to use the accurate word. * = Who cares? ** = Some people will be distracted. *** = Many people will be distracted. Usage problems distract readers from concentrating on meaning.

Question: How do I distinguish between using “amount” and “number”?

Answer: Use “amount” with quantities of material that cannot be counted individually: “…a large amount of cement,” “…an adequate amount of potato salad.”

Use “number” with things that can be counted individually: “…a number of people,” “…threw out a number of baseballs.”

Comment: A usage that particularly irritates me is as follows: "...a large amount of people." Ugh! RayS.

Rating of Distractibility: ***

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