Grammar Minute – Can I Count It?

As a math lover, one grammar rule I used to teach my math students about was when to use the following words: less, fewer, number, amount, many, and much. 

So what is the difference?
If something is countable, we use different words to refer to quantity than if something is uncountable. This should (hopefully) sound weird to you: How many flour do we need for this recipe? 

Some of these words are misused more frequently and, as a result, may not register immediately as incorrect.

Note: “much” and “many” show up in places where they’re not directly talking about the quantity of something, so use your judgment when considering changing those.

Here’s my trick: check to see if you can count the thing whose quantity is being discussed, then pick the right word based on the chart below.

Countable Uncountable
fewer
many
number
less
much
amount

Examples:

  • I had fewer people sign up for my cooking class this month.
  • Can you use less flour next time?
  • How many fingers am I holding up?
  • I have so much love for you.
  • Any number of things could go wrong.
  • Any amount of greenery added would be an improvement.

Try replacing the underlined words above with their counterparts. Do they sound weird to you? After fixing this a few times, it will hopefully start to sound more natural to use the correct words in context.

Your “homework”:

  1. Pick one (unedited) book to check. 
  2. Search for “less,” “fewer,” “many,” “much,” “number,” and “amount.”
  3. For each of these words you find, check to see if you could count the thing the word is describing. Then change the word if needed so that it is correct.
  4. If you find a word you’re not sure about, send it my way! I’d love to help you figure it out.
  5. Enjoy the feeling of knowing your book is even better than it was before!

Paige K

What are your grammar hang-ups? Let me know, and you may see them featured in future blog posts.

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