+0
Hi, everyone.
Today when I was reading an article on anti-plagiarism software, I came across the structure of "a ... amount of + the plural form of a countable noun". The whole paragraph in which the structure appears goes as follows:

"There's an increasing amount of freshmen who don't know how to write a research paper," Sheldon says. "There seems to be a lot of confusion. They're not out to violate, but I do think that there's something going on."

I remember The CoBuild Usage Dictionary tells us not to use "an amount of" with things or people. Last weekend, when I was on a panel of judges for the graduating students' oral defense of their theses, I asked a student to change "a large amount of scholars (in the United States believe that the novel The Sun Also Rises reflects the richness of the content and artistic style of the originality of Hemingway's writing.)" to "a large number of scholars ..." Did I make a big mistake here? Quite probably the student copied the whole sentence from an article written by a native writer and he would laugh at my stupidity in urging him to change what is real English to what sounds unnatural.
I beg you to do me a favour and tell me why this structure goes against authoritative dictionaries. Is this an issue of style? Is it a colloquialism, which is not used in formal writing or speech?
Please help me out.
Thanks.
Richard
1 2
Comments  
A large amount of scholars is terrible English in my opinion.[N]

CB
Hi Richard,
I am not sure if this is the difference between AmE and that of the Brits. All my learning has made me comfortable in saying that most American ears will prefer "An increasing number of freshmen..." rather than amount. I Think when we refer to human figures, "amount" has that nanimate tone and thus seems unfitting.
That's my opinion.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
GoodmanThink when we refer to human figures, "amount" has that nanimate tone and thus seems unfitting.
I think it has more to do with the whole "countable/uncountable" distinction than animate vs. inanimate.

An example:
I notice that an increasing number of cars are silver vs. white. This sounds good to my ear.
I notice that an increasing amount of cars are silver vs. white. This sounds awful.
I asked a student to change "a large amount of scholars ... to "a large number of scholars ..." Did I make a big mistake here?
No. You did the right thing. amount is for uncountable nouns; number is for countable nouns.

CJ
Thanks, CalifJim. But the perplexing problem remains: Sheldon, the speaker of "There's an increasing amount of freshmen who don't know ...", is assistant dean of Northwestern University's Weinberg College of Arts and Science in Evanston, most problably a native speaker of English. I would like to refer you to that webpage and let you have a look at it. The sentence "There's an increasing amount of freshmen who don't know..." is the first sentence in the last paragraph of the report. Please go to http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-05-22-plagiarism-digital_x.htm . I would like to repeat my guess here: perhaps it is an issue of style; probably native youngsters like to speak this casual way.
Thanks.
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
The article presents the statement as a direct quote from the assistant dean so it's either a case of him being misquoted or being very careless in his use of language. Of course, there is the third alternative that he is, himself, ignorant of the proper use of the language. I think most people would be shocked to learn how ill educated people in such positions can be. Whatever the explanation, and assuming it's an accurate quote, he is wrong. Native speaker or not.
ohmyrichardBut the perplexing problem remains
Nothing perplexing about it. Really. Everybody makes mistakes, even college deans. The only way that this is an issue of style is that a person can't unsay what is said. Maybe if this had been a written statement, Mr. Sheldon would have seen and corrected the mistake during the editing and proof-reading process. It's impossible to say exactly why this particular stream of words came out of his mouth! (And there's always the possibility that he was misquoted by the writer of the article.)

CJ
Thanks a lot, RayH.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Show more