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

Quiz
Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in either number or amount in the blanks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Kenny feels proud about the _______ of pencils in his collection.
2. Stacy wondered the _______ of speeding tickets she could get before she went to jail.
3. Connie was alarmed at the _______ of violence in her neighborhood.
4. Lenny wants to know the _______ of marbles he can fit in his mouth.
5. Tracy walked out of class to protest the _______ of preference given to athletes.
6. Lacy underestimated the _______ of work it takes to be a marine biologist.

1. number 2. number 3. amount 4. number 5. amount 6. amount

Want more help with mass nouns?
Check out this Grammar Party post about using mass nouns. 

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A guide to mass nouns

Making plural nouns in English can be confusing. Sometimes you add an “es.” Sometimes it’s just an “s.” Sometimes you add “ies.” And other times you add “en.”

Then once you’ve memorized all these rules, mass nouns enter the fray. There are no rules for making mass nouns plural because they can only be plural. Mass nouns, also called “uncountable nouns,” are substances, objects, and concepts that cannot be divided into separate parts. Think about the word “news.” There’s only news as a general idea. There isn’t one “new.” News is all of the important topics of the day, taken together as a collection.

The same goes with “sand.” There are beaches filled with sand, but you can’t find one sand. However, you can dig your hand into the ground and come up with grains of sand. This is one of the rules with mass nouns. If you want to use a mass noun, you have to place words in front that explain how much or many of the mass noun you have.

– a grain of sand
– piece of news
– a gallon of water

Another rule with mass nouns to keep in mind is that English treats mass nouns as if they were singular. For instance, instead of using “are,” use “is.”

– This juice is delicious.
– Greed is dangerous.

And if the verb you want to use usually drops an “s” with plural nouns, it will keep the “s” for mass nouns.

– The cheese tastes yummy.
– Your jewelry looks expensive.

List of mass nouns
This is by no means a complete list, but here is a brief collection to get you started:

advice
art
bravery
butter
cheese
chaos
clarity
courage
cowardice
currency
education
electricity
equipment
evidence
furniture
gas
greed
happiness
homework
honesty
information
insurance
jewelry
knowledge
livestock
love
luggage
marketing
money
mud
music
news
patriotism
power
racism
rice
sand
sexism
sugar
understanding
water
weather
wood