Amount vs. Number

I’ve done a few writing tips on “countable” words in the past, so file this one in the same folder.

“Amount” is used for a  quantity of a mass of uncountable stuff, such as a small amount of cement or a  large amount of snow.

“Number” is used for a quantity of countable items,  such as a number of centralizers or a number of snow shovels.

Bad Example:
The amount of centralizers used on the well was not proportional to the amount of cement used for other wells in that field.

In this example, the first “amount” should be “number,” because you can count exactly how many
centralizers were used. These are listed on the purchase order with a number in front of them, and when they were delivered, they were counted before somebody signed for them.

The second “amount” is OK, because we don’t know exactly how much cement was used, as this is more of a quantity of mass, rather than discretely countable things. Unless someone actually did the calculations, then you could report the “number” of bags of cement.

Corrected Examples:
1)  The number of centralizers used on the well was not proportional to the amount of cement used for other wells in that field.
2)  The number of centralizers used on the well was not proportional to the number of bags of cement used for other wells in that field.

One exception to this general rule is “amount of money.” You may protest: “Many people count
money all day long, so why wouldn’t this be countable?” Well, because money can be a mass of coins of various sizes and bills of various denominations, so the heap would be a mass quantity, or an amount.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, which I keep within arm’s reach (even closer than the
phone!), sums it up nicely:
“Number is regularly used for count nouns, while amount is usually used with mass nouns.”

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Profound Quote of the Day:
“If advertisers spent the same amount of money on improving their products as they do on advertising, then they wouldn’t have to advertise them.”
–  Will Rogers, American actor and humorist, 1879-1935
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