Countables and Uncountables (NUMBER or AMOUNT? FEWER or LESS?)

countingOne of my readers pointed out recently that distinguishing between lump sum items (laundry, money, salt) and items that can be counted (dirty shirts, dollar bills, grains of salt) is referred to in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes as "countables" and "uncountables." Remembering that phrasing can be a big help when you are not sure whether to use AMOUNT or NUMBER. 

Here is an example from a recent news article:

"Investigators were following up what they described as an 'overwhelming' amount of tips, but no one had been arrested."

Whoops! TIPS can be counted (as every restaurant server knows). Therefore, the correct choice is NUMBER, not AMOUNT. The sentence should read this way:

Investigators were following up what they described as an "overwhelming" number of tips, but no one had been arrested.

The same concept is true with FEWER and LESS. Here is another example from a recent news article:

"This will ultimately lead to less Medicaid providers in the state."

Whoops again! PROVIDERS can be counted, so the correct choice should be FEWER:

This will ultimately lead to fewer Medicaid providers in the state."

Vielen Dank, Schorschi!


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