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Crimes against English: Amount of vs. Quantity of vs. Number of

“The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public.”  Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest.

I am sure most of you reading this blog will have heard, or are familiar with the works, of the famous Irish playwright, poet and author, Oscar Wilde.

To some he was a genius but to us at Libertad Communications he was as fallible as he was human. Above is a written quote, which might be a bit unfair as Oscar may well have been using the incorrect term on purpose – can you find the mistake and correct it?

 If the answer is not immediate obvious, here is an explanation:

Amount of

An amount of something is how much of it there is that cannot be counted or measured individually.  It is a mass noun and used with uncountable singular nouns, e.g. respect, love, happiness, stress etc.

The amount of stress I am under makes me want to have a stiff drink!

I cannot believe the amount of noise coming from that house next door.

Remember – if you cannot count it then use amount.

Point to note:

Amount to something when used as a verb describes the counting or measuring of something.

The insurance for the house and car amounted to 950 euros for this year.

Finally, their aims amount to the same thing.

Quantity of

A quantity is an amount of something that can be measured or counted and is usually applied to inanimate objects.

The quantity of houses built on the estate since last month is shocking.

(Houses – inanimate and can be counted.)

Custom officials have just found a substantial quantity of drugs hidden in a case.

(Drugs – inanimate and can be counted/weighed.)

Remember – quantity, like number, can also be used for singular and plural countable nouns.  The only real difference is that if you are describing an inanimate object, then it is a good idea to choose quantity over number.

Number of

Number of describes how many even if we do not know the exact amount.  Number is countable and can be used for both animate and inanimate things.

Turbulence affected a large number of people on the airplane.

(People – plural, animate and can be counted.) 

The delivery van arrived carrying only a large number of apples.

(Apples – plural, inanimate and can be counted.)

 Remember – if you can count it and it is plural use number of.

Now for the fun part of putting your knowledge to the test:

  1. Tomorrow we will have to buy a large ………. paper for the print run, scheduled for Friday. (amount of, quantity of, number of)
  2. I have a huge ………….. work on this week, but will be free next week. (amount of, quantity of, number of)
  3. The restaurant is packed and there are still a great …………. people waiting to be seated. (amount of, quantity of, number of)
  4. The company hiring for the new bank opening have received a large ………….. applications for the few positions available. (amount of, quantity of, number of)
  5. My neighbours have a large …………. oranges for sale and quite cheap too. (amount of, quantity of, number of)
  6. I have a huge ………… love for animals. (amount of, quantity of, number of)

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