“Amount” VS “Number”

A platypus doing what, apparently, the platypus does.

When a speaker states: “A large amount of people do not like the new regulation,” this speaker is incorrect, and he or she (no, not they) sound unschooled.

We do not use the word amount when we discuss countable items—like, for instance, people. We say, instead: “A large number of people do not like the new regulation.” This is also true for “the number of pencils in a box”, “the number of shoes one has tried on”, (or, “on which one has tried”, but that’s clunky as well as prissy), “the number of lamps at the shop”, “the number of dogs  going pee-pee in my backyard”, or “the number of platypuses doing…whatever it is platypuses do”.

If you have a bag of rice, there are many pieces or grains of rice, yes, but you don’t count each grain to see how many to spoon onto the dinner plate of a two-year old child. Instead, you spoon a small amount of rice onto a young child’s plate.  If someone else is spooning out the rice, you might say, “Please give her only a small amount of rice.” Amount. Grains of rice, yes, can be counted, but rice is sold in bulk. We say, “Honey can you buy a bag of rice at the store?” Not, “Honey, can you buy 21,773 grains of rice at the store?” We say “a bag of rice”, and those bags are spoken of in “numbers of bags,” but the rice itself is called: “an amount of rice”.

It is common to hear well-paid national television news people say things like, “The amount of people say they are voting for…” and, “The amount of tests that were given…” Nope, it’s “the number people” and “the number of tests…” They’ve been schooled in grammar and have sat through English classes since they were in their nappies, and are paid the salaries of movie stars, yet… 

How about the word they? People are quick to say they now in an effort not to label anyone’s sexuality, or because they’ve heard the word they used improperly and don’t know any better—despite having also been taught for years in school that they indicates plural, and he or she indicates singular. I’m certainly not trying to hurt, offend, or label anyone, but there has to be another word that’s more grammatical.

But that’s another pet peeve of mine for another day.

JFA

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