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Is it correct to use 'majority' to refer to quantity? For example: More than half the garbage in our city is recycled . The majority of garbage is recycled.

If this is incorrect, why?

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I often hear this and it always grates - I agree will @Bill Franke. The antonym of majority is minority but I've never heard anyone say The minority of garbage is not recycled. –  Mynamite May 11 '13 at 17:03

2 Answers 2

This word should probably be used only for countable items rather than non-countable collective nouns like "garbage", but it falls into the same category as "amount" versus "the number of" when talking about countable things like people and complaints: "INFORMAL a number of things. Many people consider this use to be incorrect:

The call centre handles a huge amount of complaints every day."

The proper way to say this is:

The call centre handles a huge number of complaints every day.

The sentence you ask about should probably be:

Most of the garbage is recycled.

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It's safer to stick to countable things when using majority (see Bill Franke's answer), but I don't think it's incorrect to use it the way you're proposing. From Merriam-Webster:

3 a : a number or percentage equaling more than half of a total <a majority of voters> <a two-thirds majority> b : the excess of a majority over the remainder of the total : margin <won by a majority of 10 votes> c : the greater quantity or share <the majority of the time>

Notice the example given for sense 3c, which clearly applies to an uncountable quantity. There are probably some things (like time) which are more customary for use with majority, and will perhaps grate less on finicky ears.

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OED <oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/…; has a footnote "Strictly speaking, majority should be used with countable nouns to mean ‘the greater number’, as in the majority of cases. Use with uncountable nouns to mean ‘the greatest part’, as in I spent the majority of the day reading, is not considered good standard English, although it is common in informal contexts." –  TrevorD May 11 '13 at 16:33
    
Bad standard English? –  Edwin Ashworth May 11 '13 at 21:01
    
Answers very helpful. Much appreciated. –  Josie Briggs May 12 '13 at 0:51

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