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View Full Version : Number vs. amount



LloydBrown
11-29-2006, 06:46 PM
You have an amount of things you weigh or measure by volume or cannot otherwise count individually. You have a number of things you can count by item.

Some concepts are similar, but the specific thing you're talking about matters. You can have a large amount of money but you would have a large number of dollar bills. Or coins. Or whatever.

A project can take a great amount of work, or you can work a number of hours. If you mention the hours, things that can be counted individually, measure them in numbers.

I see this error frequently, even here on AW, and often in news reports by supposed professional journalists.

Carmy
11-29-2006, 10:04 PM
I come across a similar problem with less and fewer.

LloydBrown
11-29-2006, 11:12 PM
Speaking of which, I applauded the new Publix near my house because their express line offers service for customers with 10 or fewer items. Woo-hoo!

veronie
12-01-2006, 09:03 AM
I applaud them too, although Publix still doesn't get it entirely right. It should be "fewer than 10," not "10 or fewer." I'll give them an A for effort.

:D

Mac H.
12-01-2006, 09:16 AM
It should be "fewer than 10," not "10 or fewer." I'll give them an A for effort.
Why? Surely '10 or fewer' simply means that same thing as '10 or fewer than 10'. And 'fewer than 10' would be the same as '9 or fewer'. (Assuming they don't sell partial items)

So which is correct "There are less people at my birthday party than last year" or "There are fewer people at my birthday party than last year" ? (I had one person argue it would be 'less people' but 'fewer persons'.)

When judging which is 'correct', should we use the version of English accepted by Americans in 1950, or the version accepted by the English in 1803? Perhaps, given the choice, the stores believe they should use the version of English accepted by Americans in 2006.

So, by that logic, clearly '10 items or less' is correct.

Mac

veronie
12-01-2006, 04:37 PM
lol

I have no problems with "10 items or less" or "10 items or fewer" or "fewer than 10 items." (Although, I guess in truth I am still a stickler for "less" refering to things that can't be counted individually, and "fewer" for things that can. i.e., less water, fewer fish.)

All in all, I'd never actually bother correcting a "10 items or fewer," even though I know I've read somewhere that "fewer than 10 items" is more correct. A fellow copy-editor and I have had this discussion a couple times. I guess if you write "10 items or fewer" it might make the reader ask, "10 items or fewer than what?" (Or simply, 10 items or fewer what?)

Also, it really ought to be "fewer than 11 items," right? I mean, 10 is still allowable.

Judg
12-18-2006, 10:54 PM
So which is correct "There are less people at my birthday party than last year" or "There are fewer people at my birthday party than last year" ? (I had one person argue it would be 'less people' but 'fewer persons'.)
Fewer is the correct word in both cases. Your friend is wrong. People is a plural, just a very irregular one.

If you count something (and you can count both people and persons), you use "fewer". (In other words, if the word has a plural.) If you measure something, you use "less". Fewer flowers, less flour.

Of course, there are words that can be either, depending on context. "Truth" is normally not countable, so you would use "less". Less truth, more fiction. Unless you are referring to specific things that are true. We hold these truths to be self-evident...

I think the confusion between less and fewer comes about mainly because the opposite of both of them is more.

ebrillblaiddes
12-19-2006, 12:47 AM
Here's how I remember it...with a snack comparison, of course!
Countable: fewer potato chips
Not countable: less jello

benbradley
12-19-2006, 02:00 AM
Some concepts are similar, but the specific thing you're talking about matters. You can have a large amount of money but you would have a large number of dollar bills. Or coins. Or whatever.

It seems (there I go again) that amount is often used for money (as in "the amount of $4.39"), even though money is countable down to the last penny. I recall a preacher raising money who gave "The Sermon On The Amount."


I see this error frequently, even here on AW, and often in news reports by supposed professional journalists.

It's not just grammar. Whenever I see a science-related news item I cringe because of the great likelihood of seeing an egregious error, such as these:

http://frontiernet.net/~benbradley/cnnorbit.jpg
(Space Ship One did not go into orbit, far from it).

http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/Pickover/pc/shuttle.html

But this is getting off-topic (is that allowed here? ;) ), and those belong in some other thread in some other forum.


I applaud them too, although Publix still doesn't get it entirely right. It should be "fewer than 10," not "10 or fewer." I'll give them an A for effort.

Nah, they'd just change "Fewer than 10" to "9 or fewer," which THEN ought to be (since single digits should be spelled out) "Nine or fewer." < insert poop-eating grin smilie here > :D


I think the confusion between less and fewer comes about mainly because the opposite of both of them is more.

My confusion is greater than yours. :)

Judg
12-19-2006, 04:03 AM
My confusion is greater than yours. :)
Oh, but I protest, good sir! I am assuredly in possession of more confusion than you. And if not, then surely I have at least created more confused people than you.

:Lecture:

Judg
12-19-2006, 04:11 AM
It seems (there I go again) that amount is often used for money (as in "the amount of $4.39"), even though money is countable down to the last penny. I recall a preacher raising money who gave "The Sermon On The Amount."
Money is a bit of a queer example. Yes, it can be counted (in theory), but it is perceived as a mass amount, unless you are discussing the actual physical bills and coins. In actual fact, most money is electronic and is never actually counted anyway, so it truly is an abstraction anyway. You cannot count that $4.39 on your balance statement in any way, shape or form.

"Amount of money" is perfectly correct. Even when we are holding the physical money in our hands, it exists in our minds as a global amount. As proof of which, I offer the fact that it is virtually never pluralized, and when it is, it has a somewhat different meaning.

dobiwon
12-22-2006, 01:00 AM
A similar peeve of mine ( to amount-number and fewer-less) is over-more than, as in "I wrote over 10 reports today."