“Hugs can do great amounts of good – especially for children.” Princess Diana
For things that you can count, you can say: a number of.
If you can’t count it, you can speak about an amount of something.
Examples with Number of and Amount of
Here are some examples:
A number of trees were lining the street.
I’ve used number because I can say: one tree, two trees.
A large amount of money is in this bag.
I’ve used amount because I can’t say: one money, two money.
Oh yeah, this may seem pretty dumb to you, but with number the noun following it needs to be a plural. So it needs to be more than one.
So you can’t say a number of tree. A number of is always more than one thing or person.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Okay, so let’s test you on this.
What can I say with the following nouns?
Children is plural, so I can say a number of children.
Sugar is one thing that is uncountable. So I can say an amount of sugar.
Oil is uncountable. So I can say an amount of oil.
Books is plural, so I need to say a number of books.
The Verb with Number Of
Now about the verb.
When you use number of, the verb after it needs to be plural. Even when you say a number of students or a number of ducks, it doesn’t matter, the verb is plural because students and ducks are plural.
So we get:
A number of students were absent.
A number of ducks are sitting on the ice.
The Verb with Amount Of
With amount, on the other hand, the verb is singular.
A small amount of sugar is in the bowl.
A large amount of Email is waiting in your inbox.
It’s always a number of and an amount of. With a, not the.
The same rule applies when you use there is and there are (or in the past: there was and there were).
Rule: The noun following number of and amount of determine whether the verb is singular or plural.
Here are some examples:
There is a large amount of money in this bag.
There were a number of students in the classroom.
Now let’s look at some really common combinations with number and amount.
A large number of
A good number of
A great number of
A huge number of
A small number of
A large amount of
A great amount of
A fair amount of
A small amount of
You can make your own creative combinations here but I don’t recommend you to use them in everyday language as people may look at you strangely. So stick to the above combinations unless you are a poet.
But you can of course say: a certain amount or number and other such adjectives that don’t change the quantity (= don’t change how much something is).
Now let’s spice this up a little bit.
Amounts and numbers in the plural
You can also use amounts and numbers in the plural, like so:
Large numbers of children were in the playground.
There isn’t anything special about this, as we know already that you need to look at the noun: children. And children is plural so that’s why were is in the plural.
Does the same thing work for amounts?
Large amounts of cash are needed for the trip.
So here the rule that I gave you before doesn’t apply. The noun is cash, which is singular, but when amounts is plural (with an s at the end), the verb needs to be plural too.
Here is another example of this:
Huge amounts of love aren’t important to my robot dog.
Why is it correct to write: She needs large amounts of cash to pay for her trip.? And not: She need (without s)?
Well, here needs belongs to she and not to the large amounts of cash. (Large amounts of cash is the object of the sentence and not the subject.)
Now we’ll do a little quiz. Or rather, you will do it and I’ll just watch. 🙂
Choose singular or plural verbs.
1 A good number of visitors ___________ seen the exhibition.
2 A large amount of cash ___________ sitting in his mother’s bank account when she died.
3 Large numbers of people __________ deficient in vitamin D.
4 A great number of students ___________ Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven at high school.
5 A fair amount of chilli in your diet ___________ said to be preventative of cancer.
6 A large amount of work ___________ waiting on my desk when I returned from my holiday.
7 Instead of the huge turnout that was expected, only a small number of demonstrators __________ on the square.
8 A good number of children in the classroom _________ from ADHD.
9 But only a small number of children ____________ afraid of spiders.
10 Great amounts of sunbathing ____________ your skin.
11 Huge numbers of bats ______________ on the park at night.
Want to do more grammar quizzes?