The amount of people who surrounded him was little.


The amount of people who surrounded him was few.

Are they both grammatically correct? In the first one, the "little" is talking about the amount of people, and not people itself, in which "few" would be used.

Also, which one would generally be used in normal situations?

  • The people were few and the amount was little. – Anonym Jun 17 '15 at 19:21
  • Countable nouns use few, uncountable ones use little. (English grammar rule when learning English). For example: a little chocolate (you can say 2 chocolates, or a few chocolates, but then you mean the piece of chocolate wrapped up in a paper), but a few people (2 people 3 people...) – JuanRocamonde Jun 17 '15 at 19:29
  • Related rules: quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/less-versus-fewer – mfoy_ Jun 17 '15 at 19:30
  • First off, it's not "amount" of people, but "number" of people -- and that should solve the problem, too. HTH. – Kris Jun 18 '15 at 7:22

People are countable. Therefore, talking about a generalized "amount" of people is not a great idea. Your sentence would be better formed as "The number of people who surrounded him was small." This in turn suggests that you could replace "the number of people who surrounded him" with "the crowd surrounding him".

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  • Or better yet, "A few people surrounded him". Why discuss the number if you're not giving it? – John Lawler Jun 17 '15 at 19:18
  • Because the exact number is less important (to the speaker in this hypothetical context) than the fact that it is small. – WhatRoughBeast Jun 17 '15 at 19:24
  • That's what a few means -- 'some integer less than some minimal integer". – John Lawler Jun 17 '15 at 19:35

Couple of alternate ways of saying it:

  1. Few people surrounded him.
  2. The number of people surrounding him was small.
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Your sentences sound quite queer due to your construction:

The amount of people who surrounded him was xy.

At first I read the sentence as

The amount of people who surrounded him was xy.

and was expecting a which instead of the who. That is of course my problem, but why not use a sentence like

Only a few people surrounded him. (while his fellow had by comparison gathered a rather large crowd) **

There is another aspect to your question also.

  • few people
  • a little amount

Using few with amount should not be correct, since amount is singular while few must be used with a plural.

The adjective is referring to the subject - amount, so only

The amount of people who surrounded him was little.

can be correct, even if one would prefer another construction.

** While I was writing my answer John Lawler commented and R Sahu posted similar sentences.

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  • That's not the actual answer. It is not about if the noun is singular or plural, it's about if the noun is countable or not. Uncountable nouns use little, a little, and much, whereas countable nouns use numbers (1, 2, 3), few, a few, many. – JuanRocamonde Jun 17 '15 at 19:32
  • @JuanRocamonde I thought about that, too, but amount itself is not countable. There can be several/few/five amounts. But one amount cannot be few/many. It just can be any/some/little/big, or is that wrong? Money behaves unlike amount. You can have some money, much money, but not moneys or many money, not even few money. – Daniel Jun 17 '15 at 19:49

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