Word Choice: Amount vs. Number
  • 3-minute read
  • 9th July 2015

Word Choice: Amount vs. Number

It can be tempting to think that the subtleties of word choice don’t a major difference to your work. But whether you’re writing an academic paper, a business report or even a novel, picking the right words for the right situation can make your writing stand out from the crowd. Getting words confused or mixed up, on the other hand, can detract from an otherwise great piece of work.

Take the words amount and number, for instance. Both are terms used to deal with quantities, so many people use them interchangeably. But they do in fact have importantly distinct meanings, so using the wrong one makes it harder for the reader to follow exactly what you mean.

Worry not, though! Here at Proofed we are dedicated to helping people express themselves fully and clearly, so we’ve prepared this little guide on how to use amount and number correctly.

Amount (Uncountable Quantities)

Typically, when used as a noun, the word amount refers to the sum or whole of a quantity which would be difficult or impossible to count, for example:

There is a large amount of sand in the desert.

It can also be used as a verb, meaning to total or equal:

After the financial crash, losses amounted to four billion dollars.

Number (Countable Quantities)

The word number, of course, can refer to figure (e.g., 1, 2, 3). In this context, though, we’re interested in its use as an expression of quantity:

The number of people at the party was enough to cause a problem.

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The key is that “number” refers to a specific, countable quantity. This is made clearer if we think about how “number” can also be used as a verb:

After reading the note, David knew his days were numbered

Here “numbered” indicates a limited quantity of days which could be counted.

Amount or Number?

One way of working out which word to use is to ask yourself whether the quantity described could be counted. For instance, the phrase “a large number of sand” wouldn’t make sense because “sand” is an uncountable noun.

So if you’re referring to an unspecified but countable quantity of something, such as pebbles or people on a beach, use “number.”

But if you’re referring to something you can’t count, such as happiness or water, the word you need is “amount.”

You can find more advice on vocabulary in the word choice archive section of our academic blog. And don’t forget that Proofed’s expert proofreaders are available to provide guidance on word choice, grammar, spelling and formatting for everything from resumes to PhD dissertations.

Why not upload a free 500-word sample today and see if Proofed can help put the finishing touches on your written work?

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