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I want to say:

On a surface, making $$$ per years looks like a lot of money. But when you divide it by the actual hours worked, suddenly it doesn't look like much.

Something tells me that the emphasised part might be incorrect.

  • Sorry, I do not understand your comment. – Sam Jun 6 '14 at 22:02
  • It might be helpful to say why you think its incorrect. – user3169 Jun 6 '14 at 22:04
  • "It doesn't look like much" is in question here. – Sam Jun 6 '14 at 22:04
  • The sentence is fine. You may be troubled about the apparently ambiguous reference of it, but the intent is clear - $$$$$$$ looks a lot smaller when it is considered as $/hr. I have no trouble with the sentence. – StoneyB Jun 6 '14 at 22:04
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    @FumbleFingers ""A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money." -Everett Dirksen – StoneyB Jun 6 '14 at 22:49
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As a set phrase, I would say "on the surface". I have never heard "on a surface" used this way. It means a simple, not in depth consideration.
And its per year not per years.

Not your question but anyway... Then:

On the surface, making $$$ per year looks like a lot of money. But when you divide it by the actual hours worked, suddenly it doesn't look like much.

This is OK as is. You could also say:

...suddenly it doesn't seem like much.

  • There's no doubt OP's "on a surface" is completely wrong. But to be honest, I'm not overkeen on "on the surface" (or "superficially", either) in this exact context. I'd much prefer "at first glance" here. I've no preference between look/seem, but I'd be happier with so much. – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '14 at 23:14
  • @FumbleFingers Doesn't look like much is sound US idiom - it's not a comparison but a ‘positive’, equivalent to doesn’t look like a lot. – StoneyB Jun 7 '14 at 0:06
  • @StoneyB: Yeah - it's the same in BrE. But purely for the sake of "elegance", I'd echo the contrast/comparison (which is after all the entire purpose of OP's text). – FumbleFingers Jun 7 '14 at 1:54

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