What does "amount" mean in the following context:

To get the most out of the place you really need to hire a car, and you can get around the different islands using the small car ferries. I went to relax and wind down, but there was a surprising amount going on, and the people were very welcoming. It made a nice change, and I'm sure I'll go back again.

(taken from Oxford Learner's Pocket: Phrasal Verbs and Idioms)

I know that the amount of something is how much there is, or how much you have, need, or get (the Collins Dictionary). But in the context of the text given, it's not clear what exactly was going on. Given the great quality of Oxford books, I assume I might be missing something.

  • Collins Cobuild is close enough: 'An amount of something is how much of it you have, need, or get [,or how much there is]'. '... there were lots of activities -- a surprising number'. The count – mass divide is hazy here. Jun 22, 2018 at 10:05

1 Answer 1


In this case amount has its ordinary meaning of quantity. What’s slightly idiomatic about this phrase is the use of going on – you could equally say “surprisingly, there was a lot going on” without changing the meaning or tone.

Since you say that “it’s not clear what exactly was going on,” it sounds like you understand the use of going on to mean happening – this is sense I.1.a of to go on in the OED:

Of an action, work, process, or state of affairs: to proceed, continue further; to be in progress; to happen, occur, take place. Also of time or a period of time: to pass, elapse.

In context, the reference to “a surprising amount going on” contrasts with the author’s intent to “relax and wind down.” This indicates that the author’s destination turned out to be busier than expected – there was a “surprising amount [of activity] going on.”


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