Difference Paragraphs: amount vs. number

“Number” refers to a quantity of individually countable things, such as “cats,” “books,” “ideas,” and “trees.”  It answers the question of “How many?”

The word “amount” generally refers to a quantity of some type of thing considered “uncountable,” such as “flour,” “sand,” “time,” and “water.”  It answers the question of “How much?”

We talk about the amount of rain that fell yesterday and the number of days of rain we’ve had recently.  English generally uses “amount” in reference to things that are uncountable. However, this tendency weakens when the quantity of something normally “countable” becomes very large. For example, one might use the word amount in reference to the quantity of water droplets in a full bucket (“the amount of droplets”) rather than using the word “number.” It would be quite difficult to separate all the droplets and imagine them as countable. Still, the use of “number” only for countable things and “amount” only for uncountable represents a strong general tendency in English.

The word “quantity” can be used for either countable or uncountable things: a quantity of bread, a quantity of meatballs. However, “number” is still preferred when referring to individually countable things.

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