What is the difference?
Students of English are often confused about the difference between the words amount and number. How do you know when to use each one?
Both amount and number are nouns that refer to the quantity of something. Both words can also be used as verbs that mean “to be a certain quantity” or “to add up to.” Although they are similar, the two words are not interchangeable.
They are used in completely different contexts and, for English speakers, the distinction is very clear. It is important to learn the difference between amount and number, both as nouns and as verbs, because if you mix them up it's considered quite a basic mistake.
- Let's look at some examples to help you understand the difference.
- Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses
When it is a noun, the word amount is used with two types of words. First, we use amount with things we can't count (or do not usually count).
For example, we cannot count water, flour, snow or rain, and we do not usually count rice or hair.
For this reason, we describe an amount of water, an amount of flour, an amount of rice, etc.
Keep in mind that the concept of counting these things is different from the concept of measuring these things. We can measure flour, but we cannot say “one flour, two flour, three flour…” This means that flour cannot be counted.
Similarly, we cannot count money and time.
We can count dollars, euros, pounds, and other types of money, but we cannot say “one money, two money, three money…”Therefore, we speak about an amount of money and an amount of time.
Besides uncountable nouns, amount is used with abstract concepts. We speak about the amount of love people feel for each other, the amount of pride and the amount of frustration, noise, work and other ideas and emotions.
Amount can also be a verb. When it is used in this sense, as when it is a noun, amount is followed by an uncountable noun. The meaning of the verb to amount to is “to be a certain amount.”
You have probably already noticed that when it is a noun, amount is followed by “of.” When it is a verb, amount is followed by “to.”
- You should only eat a small amount of sugar each day. (The quantity of sugar you eat in one day should be small.
- Is that a good amount of olive oil to put in the salad, or is it too much? (Is that a good quantity of olive oil to put in the salad?)
- The amount of time and effort required to learn another language is considerable. (Learning another language requires a big quantity of time and effort.
- An enormous amount of work went into the project. (Completing the project required a lot of work.)
- Combined, my salary and my husband's salary amount to about $6,000 per month. (Put together, my salary and my husband's add up to about $6,000 per month.
- The money I have to pay in rent and bills amounts to quite a lot. (The quantity I have to pay in rent and bills is quite a lot.)
When used as a noun, the word number refers to a quantity of something that can be counted. Examples of things we can count are people, apples, mobile phones, photographs, jobs and animals.
For this reason, we speak about a number of people, a number of apples, a number of mobile phones, etc. Note that although we speak about an amount of time, we speak about a number of times (as in once, twice, three times…) This is because “time” can be both a countable and uncountable noun.
Sometimes people use the expression “a number of” when they want to avoid being specific about the quantity in question. In this case, the expression means “some” or “several.” When using the expression “a number of,” the noun that follows number will always be plural.
Similarly, when this noun is followed by a verb, the plural form of the verb should be used. For example, we say, “a number of apples in the bowl are green,” not “a number of apples in the bowl is green.”
When it is used as a verb, number means “to be a certain number.” As when it is a noun, the verb “to number” must be followed by a countable noun.
Similar to amount, when it is a noun the word number is followed by “of.”
When number is a verb, it is generally used to speak about large, approximate numbers, particularly crowds of people. For example, we could say, “The crowd numbered in the tens of thousands” or “The protesters numbered in the hundreds.”
In this case, the verb number is followed by “in.” When we speak about an exact number, or a number about which we have more certainty, “in” is not necessary. For this reason we say, “The population of England numbers 53.1 million people.” (Not “numbers in 53.1 million people.”)
- The number of languages spoken in London is astonishing. (The quantity of languages spoken in London surprises many people.)
- The number of people with college degrees has been increasing over the last few years. (More and more people are getting college degrees.)
- I was expecting 20 people at the party, but a number of my friends cancelled at the last minute. (I thought 20 people would come to the party, but in the end some of my friends were unable to attend.)
- Jonathan worked for a number
Amount vs. Number: What’s the Difference?
Some nouns can be counted individually. A person could count the crayons in a box, the eggs in a carton, or the people on a train. These are called count nouns.
Other nouns can’t be counted individually. A person could not count air, dirt, or happiness. These are called mass nouns.
English has specific words to use in reference to the quantity of mass and count nouns. Amount and number are two such words. Continue reading to discover the difference between them, and to find out whether you should use number or amount.
What is the Difference Between Amount and Number?
In this article, I will compare amount vs. number and their uses. I will use each word in an example sentence to illustrate its proper meaning and context.
Then, I will explain a helpful trick to use when deciding whether to choose amount or number for your writing, depending on context.
When to Use Amount
What does amount mean? Amount can be a noun or a verb.
As a noun, it refers to the quantity of something. Amount is used with mass nouns. In other words, amount should be used with nouns that cannot be counted individually, also called non-count nouns. You cannot count the water in a glass, for instance, or the religious freedom in America.
Here are some examples,
- Mark asked Julia to read him the amount of olive oil called for in the recipe.
- 2016 has seen an increase in the amount of web traffic devoted to travel research.
- The WISE findings get astronomers within 0.1 parsec, revealing new insights into both the amount of energy that is released when a star is destroyed and the mechanics of black hole behavior as a whole. –TIME
When amount is used as a verb, it means to become or to equal. Here are two examples.
- He’s too lazy to amount to much.
- Our expenditures for the fiscal third quarter amount to $34,000.
When to Use Number
What does number mean?
The difference between number and amount
- Science naturally includes a lot of quantities and measurements, so it would be a rare scientific paper that didn't discuss amounts and numbers.
- But wait—aren't those the same thing?
- Although amount and number both refer to quantity, and although plenty of people use them interchangeably, there is a difference.
Number refers to how many of something there is: how many mice, how many mutations, or how many calcium channels, for example. In other words, number refers to items we can count.
By contrast, amount refers to how much of something there is: how much stimulation, how much resistance, or how much liquid. In effect, amount refers to quantities we can measure but not individually count.
- Let's look at a few examples.
- Relative numbers of splicing events were assessed and quantified.
- T cells are endowed with a great amount of cellular plasticity.
- We found elevated amounts of serum immunoglobulin isotypes IgA and IgM.
Splicing events can be counted, so we should talk about numbers of splicing events. However, plasticity cannot be counted—it doesn't make sense to talk about how many plasticities there are. Thus, we need to refer to the amount of plasticity.
The third sentence is a little trickier.
Although theoretically serum immunoglobulin isotypes could be counted, in this case the sentence means that the concentrations of IgA and IgM were elevated (it might be better to just say that, but then we couldn't discuss amount versus number). Concentration refers to a measurable quantity of something, but it doesn't refer to individual countable items.
In technical terms, what we're talking about here are mass nouns versus count nouns. As you might guess, a mass noun is a noun that cannot be counted, whereas a count noun is one that can.
We should use amount for mass nouns such as plasticity but number for count nouns such as events. The distinction between mass and count nouns is important for several other words, such as less, fewer, many, much, little, and several.
The Oxford Dictionaries website provides a nice table depicting when to use all these words.
Some words live double lives as both mass nouns and count nouns. Protein is one that comes up frequently in Cell Press papers.
Amount vs. Number
Amount” and “number” both refer to quantity and can be used as nouns and verbs as well. Even so, this doesn't mean that they are synonyms or that they can replace each other anytime. In fact, distinct contexts require a certain word from these two, depending on an important factor.
Find out why you cannot replace “amount” with “number” and how to use them correctly.
Amount vs. Number
As verbs, “amount” and “number” have distinct meanings, easy to remember and not creating doubts or confusions. “To amount” means to have a particular total, and “to amount to something” refers to being the same or having the same effect as something. “To number” is usually used in passive, meaning to give something a number, or, secondary, it can also refer to “numbering a particular amount of people/things”, which means that there are a lot of people/things.
The actual confusion that is often created between “amount” and “number” is actually sourced by the nouns they represent. And the factor that determines which one you should use is the thing you are trying to determine the quantity for – is it countable or uncountable? “Amount” is used to offer the quantity of uncountable nouns, while “number” illustrates the quantity of countable nouns.
When do we use “amount”?
As already explained above, “amount” is used to determine how much there is of something, when that thing is not countable.
Example: This project requires a huge amount of energy and time. – energy and time are uncountable, so their quantity is expressed using “amount”.
When do we use “number”?
Besides its basic meanings as a noun (referring to a group of numbers, as in “phone number”, or simply to the symbol used in the counting system, such as “four”, “ten” etc.), “number” is used to determine the amount of something that is countable.
Example: Tell me the number of people that entered your building today. – people are countable, which is why “number” is used to determine their quantity.
“Amount” and “number” have multiple and distinct meanings, but when it comes to measuring or determining a quantity, things must be clear and easy to remember – you have to use “amount” when referring to uncountable things, while “number” is perfect to determine how many countable things there are.
Amount, Quantity, and Number
by Craig Shrives Use amount of before singular things you cannot measure.
- A large amount of disdain
Use quantity of before a singular (and sometimes plural) thing you can measure, particularly if it's inanimate.
- A large quantity of money
Use number of before plural things you can measure. For example: There are subtle differences between amount of, quantity of and number of.
The term amount of is used for things you cannot measure, i.e., non-countable nouns. Amount of usually precedes a singular word.
- I undertook an inordinate amount of work.
- She had a certain amount of respect for the sales team, but she always dissented when they spoke at meetings.
- It is not difficult to see where that amount of hate derives.
- 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. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
(Work is a non-countable noun. It is singular and cannot be measured or counted.)
(Respect is singular and cannot be measured or counted.)
(Hate is singular and cannot be measured or counted.)
(Women is plural and can be counted. This should be the number of women. )
The term quantity of is used with singular or plural (but mostly singular) things that you can measure, i.e., countable nouns. It is usually applied to inanimate objects. (Some older grammar references might advocate that quantity of can only precede a singular word; however, this view is now considered outdated.)
- I took control of a large quantity of money.
- The ship was only carrying a large quantity of mangoes.
(Money is singular and can be measured or counted.)
(Mangoes is plural, and they can be measured or counted.) (Note: Number of could also be used in this example. In fact, number of
Amount vs. Number
As if math is not already a challenge to most people, distinguishing the terms amount and number from each other when describing quantity adds to the struggle. But before we discuss the differences between the two words, we should focus on the concepts of count nouns and mass nouns first.
Count nouns or countable nouns are anything that can be counted, whether singular or plural, such as books, a pen, and people riding a bus.
On the other hand, mass nouns are anything that cannot be counted and are always written in the singular form, such as water, advice, and garbage.
In order to express them in plural form, they are paired with words expressing a plural concept to help writers be more specific.
- Water – buckets of water
- Advice – pieces of advice
- Garbage – bags of garbage
As a noun, the word amount refers to “a quantity of something,” and is particularly used with mass nouns.
Americans are wildly underestimating the amount of salt in their food
Yahoo News UK
The amount of space junk around Earth has hit a critical point — and it could jeopardize our space missions
It can also be used as a verb meaning “come to be the total when added together.”
Demonetised currency amounting to Rs 51.56 lakh seized; 5 held
BRIEF-Marfin investment Group results after taxes amounted to a loss of 85 million euros
Meanwhile, the word number is also used as a noun referring to “ a quantity of something,” and is mostly used with count nouns.
A record number of French voters were so disgusted they cast a blank vote for nobody
‘13 Reasons Why’ highlights a wider problem: The number of children with thoughts of suicide doubled in 10 years
Now that we have determined the differences and uses amount and number, it would be easier to utilize them in our writing.
A trick for remembering would be to note that amount is for mass nouns because they both have an m in their spelling while number is for count nouns because we count using numbers.
Word Confusion: Amount vs Number vs Quantity
Revised as of 22 August 2019
I ran across quantity as a word confusion with number and amount, and as it is quite similar to number, I decided to include it with this already published post on Amount vs Number.
In a quick synopsis:
- Amount is used with singular nouns that represent uncountable nouns, i.e., grains of sand on the beach, how much air is in the atmosphere, how much water is in the ocean, etc.
- Number counts up what can be counted, i.e., how many cans of Coke are left in the fridge, how many pieces of pie are left, the number of cars in the driveway, etc.
- Quantity also counts what can be counted, but does so in a measured way.
“Amount versus Number” originally came up when I ran across a sheet from one of my prerequisite English classes — in college!! — which listed “Confusing Word Pairs” and amount versus number was one of the pairs listed. I find them confusing myself, so I’m looking forward to having an easy reference on amount and number in the future. And now…quantity.
|How much have you had to drink tonight?
Oh, a fair amount.
The drinker has not been counting.
|The number of logs used to build this house was astonishing.
You really can count how many logs were used.
|It’s five o’clock. Somewhere.
I guess that drinker can officially start his imbibing.
Amount vs Number • Super simple explanation with many examples
When you are writing about things, it’s easy to get amount and number confused. When do you use each one?
Use amount when you talk about mass or uncountable nouns. These are nouns that you cannot count without using a unit of measurement. See the example below.
Even though you can say 1mL of water to measure it, you cannot count water by itself.
Use number when you talk about count nouns. These are nouns that you can count and say specifically how many there are. See the example below.
When you talk about birds, you can see that there are one, two, or any other number of birds. It is clear how many there are without using a unit of measurement.
More examples and explanations
The number of cells that are growing in that petri dish is incredible!
Because cells can be measured (such as one cell, two cells, ten thousand cells, etc.), number is the correct word to use in this case.
The amount of effort that Jace put into the article was pitiful. No wonder the quality of it was so poor.
Effort cannot be measured directly. You cannot say one effort; you can only use one hour of effort – in other words, you have to use a unit of measurement to quantify the effort. As a result, amount is the correct word to use for this.
I have created a small number of videos that you can watch when you have the time.
You can have one video or a million videos, so videos can be counted. For this example, video is a count noun and number is correct.
The amount of trust that your boss has in your is really quite incredible!
Even though you can have a lot of trust or a little trust, you cannot know whether the amount of trust you are talking about will match what the other person understands. This is because trust is not countable, so amount is the correct word.
Polly got a large amount of hair cut off at the barber shop today.
In this case, hair is an uncountable noun. Hair refers to all the hair that Polly has, not the individual hairs on her head. Because there is no way to know how much hair it is, amount is correct.
Can you believe that someone has to count the number of hairs there are on that wig?
In contrast to the previous example, this example refers to hairs as individual things. The person mentioned in the question has to count each individual strand of hair separately, and can say that there are 4,503 hairs (or whatever the real number is). Therefore, number is correct.
More for you:
››› Numbers, Years, Length, Dates in English!
››› Ordinal Numbers in English!
››› What are Quantifiers? Quantifiers List and Examples
››› English Adverbs of Quantity (List)!
››› COST, PRICE, RATE and CHARGE
Number vs. amount
- Lesson: when to use number and amount in sentences
- The words number and amount are used in different situations.
- Use number with things you can count (count nouns).
- Use amount with things you can’t count (mass nouns).
For instance, you can count snakes, so snakes is a count noun. That means you would use the word number to go with them.
Example: The number of snakes in this room is fifteen.
However, hatred is something you can’t count, since hatred is a mass noun. So you would use the word amount to go with it. Example: The amount of hatred I have for snakes has lessened.
Let’s look at a couple more examples:
Frida counted the number of marshmallows in the bag.
Frida measured the amount of sugar she needed for the recipe.
(Since Frida can count the marshmallows, we use number. Since she can’t count individual pieces of sugar, we use amount.)
For some extra help, here are examples of count nouns you would use number with and mass nouns you would use amount with:
|number of cats||amount of envy|
|number of paintings||amount of sand|
|number of fried eggs||amount of obsession|
|number of books||amount of milk|
|number of bad grades||amount of experience|
|number of salad bowls||amount of news|
|number of nerds||amount of failure|
|number of events||amount of hilarity|
|number of aliases||amount of water|
|number of bowel movements||amount of urine|
Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in either number or amount in the blanks. The answers are at the bottom.