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Is it more typical to say that there are a large amount of calories or a high amount of calories?

For example:

Chocolate cake contains a high/large amount of calories.

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This is one of those questions that asks for a proper distinction between count and non-count nouns. Uncountable substances take "amount": = "the total number or quantity : aggregate"; substances that are countable take "number". ANSWER: Chocolate cake contains a large number of calories. Calories is a count noun: it must be used in the plural here. However, there are other & better ways of saying this: Chocolate cake contains many calories. You can also say Chocolate cake contains a {huge/large} amount of sugar. – user21497 Jan 9 '13 at 9:14
Whoa, Bill. There are some nouns (in English at least) whose referents are intrinsically countable but which are treated as uncount (I think some grammars distinguish between mass nouns and uncount nouns). Confetti and lentils, for instance, are what I call quasi-uncount nouns (emphasising their intrinsic atomicity). Eat more lentils causes no problems (grammatically), of course , but I think most people would prefer Eat less lentils. When it comes to continuous data apparently treated as discrete, logic usually prevails: three inches of snow has fallen. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '13 at 11:08
That having been said, we'd say many inches of snow rather than much inches, of course; the awkwardness is often addressed when using feet by adopting the uninflected plural foot. With the original example, I think the usual rendering would be Chocolate cake contains a lot of calories, where the quantifier phrase is conveniently dual-purpose. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '13 at 11:15

Actually the most common phrasing I've personally seen is:

It is high in calories.

The number of calories can be thought of as either a number (number of) or aggregate (amount of). Other answers/comments have indicated that there's debate over which is more common/appropriate, but what one you use influences which adjective you pick.

Per this NGram:

large number of --> Most Common

large amount of --> Common

high number of --> Uncommon

high amount of --> Almost Unheard Of

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Really Lynn, "what one you use" - what were you thinking of? – MikeM Jan 9 '13 at 15:12
@MikeM: Huh? (Apparently Huh? by itself is not a valid comment so I must say more than that even though really that's all I have to say.) – Lynn Jan 9 '13 at 15:42
I'm not over-fond of any of your four alternatives. The calorie is fundamentally a unit (of energy), and one wouldn't often use large number of / amount of (etc) joules or hours. Admittedly, calories is used as a shorthand with foods for 'available energy' which would accept 'large amount', but I'd hedge with 'a lot of' which does not clash with either notion - mass usage (energy) or number of calories. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '13 at 22:46
@EdwinAshworth: Oh, I agree - that's why I led off with my favored alternative. Yours is good too. I was just trying to answer the OP's direct question about large/high. – Lynn Jan 10 '13 at 3:54
Sorry, Lynn. I wish people wouldn't ask for a decision involving two questionable variants. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '13 at 17:59

Bill Franke's comment suggests that this question asks for “a proper distinction between count and non-count nouns”, then reasons that because uncountable substances take “amount” ie “total number or quantity : aggregate” while countable substances take “number” the answer is like “Chocolate cake contains a large number of calories”, calories being countable. I suppose his comment is intended to rule out either of the alternatives mentioned in the question.

However, the question actually asks which of two forms is more typical. That question can be answered by reviewing corpuses of English text. For example, the English 2009 ngrams corpus shows no usage¹ of high amount of calories, and shows that in recent decades, large number of calories appears at least twice as frequently as large amount of calories. As another example, COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) includes one instance of “large amount of calories” and no instances of the other two phrases. (But as Barrie England notes in a comment, the shorter phrases “amount of calories” and “number of calories” appear 51 times and 137 times, respectively.)

¹ In google ngrams, phrases that appear in fewer than 40 books are not treated, ie show as zero. (See FAQ question “Why are you showing a 0% flatline when I know the phrase in my query occurred in at least one book?”)

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The COCA has 51 records for amount of calories and 137 for number of calories. The BNC figures are 15 and 26. – Barrie England Jan 9 '13 at 11:57

It is more typical to say that there are a large amount of calories than a high amount of calories.

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Isn’t amount singular? – tchrist Jan 9 '13 at 14:23
@tchrist. Yes, there's one amount of many calories and that amount is large. – MikeM Jan 9 '13 at 16:27

Here the bone of contention is a question asked for the English Grammar part of the Kerala Public Service Commission Examination conducted on the 5th of January, 2013.

The question runs:

Chocolate cake contains a __ amount of calorie.
The options given are: high; numerous; large; big

What the Public Service Commission expects is:

Chocolate cake contains a large amount (high amount) of calorie.

But here the problem is: the very question is wrongly constructed.

Cake is a common noun and so the question should have been:

Chocolate cakes contain....

Again, the noun calorie should have been in the plural. So, the question should have been:

Chocolate cakes contain ... calories.

The most accurate answer, of course, is:

Chocolate cakes contain a large amount of calories.

The question can be challenged in a court of law, whatever be the answer given by the PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION.

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You are quite right about the singular calorie; but Chocolate cake here is considered under the category of edible substance rather "edible item", so the singular in noun and verb is quite proper. – StoneyB Jan 9 '13 at 17:56

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