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In the quote below, 'a significant' is used to modify 15%.

A significant 15% of people said they trust none of these sectors with their data. (The Guardian)

I wonder if I can use 'a significant' to modify a number that isn't a percentage? I want to say that 100 million people said they trust none of these sectors with their date and '100 million' is a significant number.

A significant 100 million people said they trust none of these sectors with their data. (My version)

Or do I have to make it more precise like:

A significant number of 100 million people said they trust none of these sectors with their data. (My version)

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  • The final example looks like you're talking about a fraction of the 100 million people, not 100 million people. But do you actually know what "significant" means? What do you want to say? Did you really ask more than 100 million people who they trusted, because if not, then that's incorrect. A Stack Exchange question is supposed to be about a real problem you face.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 11:02
  • Thanks for the comment. I have edited my question to make it more clear. Does "a significant 100 million people" work? Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 11:07
  • 100 million could hardly be called an insignificant number! (So there is no reason to describe it as 'significant'.) I think the point of the sentence from the Guardian is that 15%, even though quite a small percentage, is significant in that context. Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 12:51
  • @KateBunting, thanks for the insight. Let's say 5 million. My point is whether it is alright to use an adjective to modify a number that is not a percentage, like a significant 5 million people said... Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 13:12
  • If it was a really enormous survey and 5,000,000 was only a small proportion of the people surveyed, there's no grammatical reason why you shouldn't. Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 14:18

2 Answers 2

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Simplifying: 'Context is All'

Subject's context: If the document gives enough context to confirm the number's significance then just say '100 million' (If the context is talking about a total population'). Saying 'a significant 100 million' is fine if extra emphasis is needed.

Author's context: If the writer can assume their opinion is trusted then 'a significant 100 million' expresses that opinion.

No context: Explain the ratio, fraction or proportion (Rule: don't assume reader's maths ability')

BTW: Glad that you're taking care expressing statistics!

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  • Thanks for the answer. Does 'significant' mean the number is big? You mentioned "the number's significance". It sounds like the number is important rather than big so I'm a little confused. Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 6:49
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Rephrase using the adjective significantly:

Significantly, 15% of people said they trust none of these sectors with their data.

Significantly, 100 million people said they trust none of these sectors with their data.

What it actually means is The (unnamed) speaker considers it significant that ... which is the same idea expressed in the original quote.

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