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According to Merriam-Webster, the idiomatic meaning of "a good number of" is similar to that of "a good many", both of which express the idea that there is a lot of something. For example:

An actress who has appear in a good number of [many] movies.

However, I would like to know if it's acceptable/natural to use it more literally to mean "a good/desired amount" of something. Since amount refers to quantities that are measured in bulk or mass, and shouldn't grammatically be used for things that can be counted (e.g. hours or children).

To give further clarification, below are two sentences that I wanted to use, but am not sure whether or not they adhere to rules of phrase usage.

A good number of community service hours to have would be around a hundred.
To mean I should aim for around 100 hours of community service.


A good number of students to have in a classroom would be under 40.
Since I can't say "a good amount of students...".

So what do you think about using those constructions? Is it acceptable to use them in such ways?

  • It's grammatical, and idiomatic, but "a good number of students to have would be under 40" is hardly a concise way of stating the idea.Consider using modal should. We should (try to) have at most forty students in a classroom. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 12 '17 at 13:22
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Yes, you can use "a good number of" in this way.

To distinguish the two meanings, it's necessary to rely on context. As a rule of thumb, the "many" meaning is generally used when what's being described is something that a person or thing has done, is doing, or will do:

  • Over the years, he's made a good number of controversial statements.
  • She's a good number of points ahead of the other players.
  • He's set to appear in a good number of films over the next 5 years.

Whereas the "suitable or preferable quantity" meaning is used when either the suitable quantity or the good number is the subject of the sentence:

  • [A good number of community service hours] SUBJ. to have would be around a hundred.

  • [Less than 40 students] SUBJ. is a good number to have in a classroom.

However, while I can't think of any, there are likely to be exceptions to this rule of thumb, and you'll have to determine whether it makes more sense for the phrase to mean "many" or "suitable/preferable quantity."

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