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Is it okay to say "What was the number of" meaning "How many"? For example, "What was the number of students that came here yesterday?"

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

It's grammatically correct, but in an informal context, it would be more likely to say "how many".

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So I can't use this phrase in an informal talk with my friends? –  brilliant Jan 13 '11 at 19:49
    
Sure you can, and it wouldn't seem that weird. I guess "how many" is more ordinary and casual, while "what is the number" strikes me as something said by someone that was more interested in the answer, or in a technical, legal, or official context, but it's a fine distinction. I'm North American, by the way. –  Nick Jan 13 '11 at 19:52
    
I see. Thank you Nick!!! –  brilliant Jan 13 '11 at 20:06
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