And here we are with another troublesome pair that’s been requested by one of the Libro blog readers. This one relates somewhat to good old fewer vs. less, in that you have fewer of a number but less of an amount. Basically, an amount is uncountable, while a number is countable.
An “amount” is a total of something, whether it’s a number, a value, an extent or a size. An amount can be of several countable things all added up together, or, more usually, of one of those uncountable, collective nouns we talked about in the “fewer or less” post.
A “number” is an arithmetic value, represented by a symbol, word or figure. And it refers to the countables – hairs, rabbits, coins, sheep …
“He owed me three sheep, £2 and an acre of land, and paid the full amount.”
To hark back to the fewer and less post: A large amount of hair; a large number of hairs. A small amount of coinage, a small number of coins. A small number of sheep eating a large amount of grass.
Here’s an interesting side note:
“The number of” + a plural noun is used with a singular verb: “The number of children who can read is lower at age 5.”
“A number of” + a plural noun is used with a plural verb: “A number of children remain unable to read later on.”
For more troublesome pairs, click on the category cloud over to your right, or go here.