According to dictionaries, "some" can sometimes mean "a large number or amount of something". This is while "some" is mainly used to mean "an amount or number of something that is not stated or not known". Now the question is: how can we know that in a sentence like the one below "some" means a considerable amount, not an unspecified amount?

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary uses the following example for "some" as "a large amount of something":

It was with some surprise that I heard the news.

There's a similar example from Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary:

Their decision was met with some surprise.

  • 2
    You tell from the context. The speaker is unlikely to have mentioned it unless they were very surprised.
    – mdewey
    May 7, 2021 at 15:02
  • The Brits are known for their understating of situations.
    – Lambie
    May 7, 2021 at 16:57

2 Answers 2


I'd say that in the examples given, "some" is actually being used in the more usual way, i.e. "I was surprised, although not all that surprised". Or, at least, I suppose it could be being used ironically as an understatement, but there's no way to tell that without further context. Those are just poor examples.

I can think of a few instances where "some" definitely would be used to mean a large amount, though:

That was quite some mess. ( = a big mess).

Three goals in thirty minutes? He's some player. ( = an outstanding player).

Probably a colloquial usage, but a well-established one.

(Note: I'm from England. I don't know whether there's any difference in how Americans (or Australians, or any other variation) would read it).

  • 1
    Good answer, and highlights how a learner can tell "some" used as an intensifier to mean ”quite a lot" or "very much, and the more usual meaning of "some". In case of using it as an intensifier, it is often used in a singular context, where you can't use it that way in the usual sense. So you can't say "You have some book" as a simple statement of posession. But you can say "That's some book you've got there!" In an expression of surprise or admiration. Otherwise it's dependent on context, and it's probably going to be a context of surprise, shock or strong emotion.
    – fred2
    May 25, 2021 at 22:04

This particular example is more of a British usage than American. The British culture tends to suppress and look down upon emotional excess, so one would only admit to a little surprise, even if it was a lot.

And so in this case the speaker is saying they were only a moderately surprised, with the understanding that they might have actually been extremely surprised.

One might find that kind of example more often in the Oxford dictionary, given that it is in England.

  • You mean the speaker admits they were surprised to a moderately high degree? BTW, it's not just Oxford Dictionary that uses such examples. Webster Learner's Dictionary has similar examples too.
    – BeatsMe
    May 7, 2021 at 17:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .