When I pick these new grammar topics to discuss, they arise from the mistakes I have been noticing the most online recently. Today’s rule has been rampantly disobeyed as of late. It’s tied directly to the topic of when to use less versus fewer, which I covered ad nauseam in the second-ever Grammar Guru episode here. Cheatsheet: Use fewer for countable nouns and less for uncountable nouns! Example: Fewer people would make mistakes if there was less apathy surrounding grammar.
The mistake looks like this: “The amount of times I had to try to take this picture is silly!” The number of people who don’t know that it should be “NUMBER of times” and not “AMOUNT of times” is silly! So allow me to refresh you on the topic of quantifiers. As usual, watch the video and read along below.
THE GOLDEN RULE
Use the word number for things you can count, such as people, m&ms, occurrences, pages, lemons, and users.
Use the word amount for things you can’t count, such as fear, love, water, air, anxiety, coffee, and happiness.
Number is for count nouns, and amount is for mass nouns.
WHEN TO USE NUMBER
If you can count the thing in a “one, two, three, four” kind of way — even if there could be millions or billions of the object in question — use NUMBER. Incorrectly using amount to refer to nouns that you can count is very distracting and should be avoided. Saying it wrong out loud can often sound right, but many people in your workplace and in your social sphere will know the difference.
INCORRECT: “I can’t believe the amount of alligators we saw in Florida!”
CORRECT: “I can’t believe the number of alligators we saw in Florida!”
INCORRECT: “The amount of bachelorette parties downtown right now is crazy.”
CORRECT: “The number of bachelorette parties downtown right now is crazy.”
INCORRECT: “How can we increase the amount of users on our site?”
CORRECT: “How can we increase the number of users on our site?”
ALSO CORRECT: “How can we increase the amount of traffic on our site?”
What a great transition into when we should use amount. You can’t technically count traffic (it’s a general, mass noun) but you CAN count users!
WHEN TO USE AMOUNT
If you cannot count the noun in a “one, two, three, four” kind of way, then use amount!
CORRECT: You would not believe the amount of traffic downtown right now!
CORRECT: We go through a huge amount of coffee in this office.
CORRECT: The amount of starlight you get out West is astonishing.
And, to bring the rule full-circle, let’s look at those examples rewritten with countable nouns that must use number.
CORRECT: You would not believe the number of cars downtown right now!
CORRECT: We go through a huge number of K-cups in this office.
CORRECT: The number of stars you can see out West is astonishing.
WHEN TO USE QUANTITY
Quantity is more formal than both amount and number. Quantity of or quantities of can be followed by either a countable noun or an uncountable noun. It is usually used with tangible, inanimate things that you can touch, and it’s commonly found alongside adjectives like huge, big, large, small.
CORRECT: The new homeowners discovered a large quantity of old coins hidden under the floor.
Since coins are countable, you could switch quantity to number and still be correct.
CORRECT: You only need a very small quantity of sugar in this recipe.
NOTE: Since sugar is uncountable, you could switch quantity with amount and still be correct.
CORRECT: Volunteers delivered huge quantities of food to the tornado victims.
NOTE: Since food is uncountable, you could switch huge quantities with huge amounts and still be correct.
I’m just out here trying to decrease the NUMBER of embarrassing errors we see in our written world — one rule at a time! If you have a specific rule you’d like me to cover, email me at [email protected]!
Freshen up on Grammar Guru’s previous episodes!
Grammar Shape-Up Series: Apart vs. A Part
Grammar Shape-Up Series: Fewer vs. Less
Grammar Shape-Up Series: “Couldn’t Care Less”
Lay vs. Lie: Are You Using Them Correctly?
Apostrophes: Are You Over- Or Underusing Them?
FYI: The Acronyms You Need To Know
5 Words You’re Probably Using Incorrectly
3 Rules You’re Likely Breaking
Everyday vs. Every Day & Other Tricky Word Pairs
Grammar Guru: Prepositions CAN End a Sentence. Sometimes.
Grammar Guru: Are You Getting These 5 Phrases Wrong?
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