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After looking up the expression 'any amount of' in several online dictionaries, I've noticed that it is used with both countable and uncountable nouns. Here are the examples found in two of them:

  1. From the Cambridge Online Dictionary:

We had any amount of people applying for the job.

  1. From the Longman Online Dictionary:

The school has any amount of resources and equipment.

However, as far as I know, and according to the Britannica Online Dictionary:

Amount is chiefly used with noncount nouns [...] It is also sometimes used with plural count nouns, but this use is often criticized as an error. e.g. There were a large amount of mistakes.

Does that mean that the aforementioned examples are not featuring a correct use of the expression 'any amount of'? Or does the latter—being a fixed expression—work in a different way than the most common 'a large/etc amount of'?

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    I think the answer is going to be a 'formal vs informal' thing. Jun 28 at 19:40
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    In these contexts, "any amount of" is somewhat idiomatic, and it's a colloquialism (informal). It means "a large amount of".
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 29 at 8:38
  • "Resources" and "equipment" are uncountable (In some contexts, we can talk about "a resource", but in the example given, we wouldn't talk about a number of resources. Jun 29 at 9:38
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    I'd say the bigger error in that Brittanica quote is "There were a large amount" - a large amount is a singular thing (as is a large number). Jun 29 at 9:40
  • @TobySpeight - it has been shown that amount can be used for countables (as per the OED etc) and that the Britannica clearly recognises this, and says that it is sometimes criticised as an error. This is more helpful than the simplified examples seen in the other dictionaries. It may be considered 'informal' by some, but the OED quotes examples from George Bernard Shaw and the New York Times. Jun 29 at 10:05

1 Answer 1

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Short answer: 'amount' with countables may be seen as idiomatic or informal. You can't go wrong if you abide by the standard 'compact dictionary' or learner's 'rule' that 'number' is for countables and 'amount' is for non-countables, especially in school tests, etc.

Long answer: the noun 'amount' is usually restricted by dictionaries to uncountable or mass quantities, but Britannica, which you have quoted, is not so dogmatic ('chiefly', 'sometimes', and 'often criticized as an error'). Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary also:

(used especially with uncountable nouns)

Amount is most often used with uncountable nouns:
an amount of cash/space/material/food
It is also sometimes used with countable nouns, especially in spoken or informal English:
You're competing with a massive amount of people.
However, some people consider that this is not correct and prefer to use number with countable nouns:
You're competing with a very large number of people.

Amount (Oxford Learner's Dictionaries)

Note that when a dictionary includes qualifying words like 'often', 'chiefly', 'mainly', 'sometimes', etc, it is providing a usage note or definition that is not totally exclusive, and may be descriptive rather than prescriptive; exceptions may be found in real-world use.

Compare with 'less' and 'fewer'.

Fewer versus less (Wikipedia)

The Oxford English Dictionary also:

4.4 In colloq. phr. any amount (of), a great deal (of) (cf. any a. 2 b); no amount of, not even the greatest possible amount of (orig. U.S.).

1893 G. B. Shaw Widowers' Houses ii. iii. 41, I have any amount of letters for you.    1914 M. Sinclair Three Sisters lxiii. 369 And he had spent any amount of money on it.    1921 E. O'Neill Emperor Jones v. 185 Capable of any amount of hard labor.    1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald Great Gatsby v. 116 No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.    1952 G. Sarton Hist. Sci. I. xiv. 363 It takes a surgeon to appreciate the fine points of Hippocratic surgery, and no amount of explanation would help other readers to judge them correctly.    1961 N. D. Gill People of Way v. 55 Many people wake up tired of a morning and no amount of rest seems to make any difference. 1961 D. Black Foot of Rainbow xxviii. 199 There was any amount of drink on board. 1968 Listener 10 Oct. 472/3 ‘Did you encounter opposition in the early stages?’ ‘Oh, any amount.’    1973 E. F. Schumacher Small is Beautiful i. ii. 33 The disease having been caused by allowing cleverness to displace wisdom, no amount of clever research is likely to produce a cure.    1985 N.Y. Times 18 Dec. d27/6 When you can get five goals on thirteen shots, that pretty much makes up for any amount of mistakes.

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  • Strange that the OED says the expression was originally from the US, and yet the first attestation is George Bernard Shaw who was Irish. LOL
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 29 at 9:15
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    @BillyKerr Shaw was known for his detestation of 'established' English forms and usages, in particular punctuation. Jun 29 at 10:08
  • Hmmm . . . yeah, but did the phrase really originate in the US? It must have come from somewhere because the US was quite literally made by Irish/Scottish/English immigrants. I'm Scottish and in Scots dialect we use "onies amount" which means the same thing. And there is also a Scots dialect (Ulster Scots) in Ireland. Needs more investigation I think,
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 29 at 10:26

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