I have a question.

I know 'a number of ' means 'a lot', and 'the number of' means 'the quantity of'.

so.. I say, 'a number of apples.' and then, I want to repeat the phrase 'a number of apples' wherein the apples are the same apples.

Then should I say 'a number of the apples' or "the number of the apples.'

I mean, when repeating the same thing, definite article is used, like an apple-> the apple.

should I put 'the' in front of 'apples'? or should I change 'a' to 'the'?

Thanks in advance

  • 2
    This would be easier to answer this if you could write some whole example sentences, rather than bits and pieces, with details about the parts you are not clear about.
    – user3169
    Jan 21, 2015 at 2:58
  • A number of doesn't mean a lot of. It means several, various, a few, or some. The question is not clear at all.
    – Khan
    Jan 21, 2015 at 4:39
  • a number of the apples -I first thought you are giving some number (-say 3832) to the box of apples!*
    – Maulik V
    Jan 21, 2015 at 5:27

2 Answers 2


A number of apples means an indefinite quantity of apples, roughly equivalent to quite a few apples or several apples.

I have a number of apples in this bag.

The number of apples, however, means a definite quantity of apples: the exact number of apples under discussion.

The number of apples in this bag is seven.

In both, the article (a or the) refers to number, not to apples; but while a-number-of acts is a multiword quantifier which acts as a determiner on apples, the-number is a standalone noun phrase which is modified by the preposition phrase of apples.

Consequently, you cannot treat the two expressions as 'co-referential' like bare a and the, which can be used as determiners of the same entity at different stages of a discourse, because only one of them is used as a determiner. Thus, although these two pairs of statements work well enough:

I have an apple in this bag. okThe apple is a Red Delicious.
I have seven apples in this bag. okThe seven apples are all Red Delicious.

... this pair of statements is impossible:

I have a number of apples in this bag. The number of apples are all Red Delicious.

If you want to do something like this, you have to use some other expression instead of a number of:

I have several apples in this bag. okThe several apples are all Red Delicious.

marks an utterance as ungrammatical


If you're using 'a number of apples' to mean 'a certain quantity of apples', then you can later refer to them as those apples. For example

Jane: There were a number of apples on the table this morning.
Charlie: I didn't see any apples.
Jane: I guess someone must have come along and taken those apples.

  • This does not answer the question: "Then should I say 'a number of the apples' or "the number of the apples.'" Also see the questions' title.
    – user6951
    Jan 21, 2015 at 3:32
  • @δοῦλος You don't say either. Either would sound either awkward or confusing.
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 21, 2015 at 3:33

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