Ok, this one is driving me crazy lately. I can’t get through a day without seeing something like this in a blog or comment:
and large amounts of middle class women
That makes my teeth itch. Here’s the very simple rule: if you can count something — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — then you use number. If it’s just a mass of stuff, you use amount. For example:
- A large number of middle class women enjoy scrapbooking.
- I ate a large amount of ice cream last night.
See the difference? You can count women, but you can’t count ice cream. You can measure it, but you can’t count it; it’s just a mass of dairy goodness. You can count cartons of ice cream, but then you’re talking about the cartons, not the ice cream, so it still follows the rule:
- I bought a large number of cartons of ice cream.
Easy, right? People almost always use amount when they should use number; I rarely see it done wrong the other way around. So when you write amount, stop and think, “Wait, is this something I can count and get a ‘number’ of?” Another aid is to ask yourself if you could replace it with many. You could say, “Many middle class women,” but not, “Many ice cream,” so use number where many would work.
I hope that helps.