Garner reads

Although enough modifies either count nouns or mass nouns, enough stamina, sufficient should modify only mass nouns, so the usage problem can be solved by making it sufficient numbers of.

There are exceptions to the general rule: sufficient (or more often insufficient) funds.

Mass noun: Also termed noncount/uncountable noun

Is numbers a mass noun? For the AHD, both numbers and funds are "plural only" nouns.

OED: https://www.oed.com/oed2/00160580

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    It’s saying that “numbers of” can be used to coerce count nouns to mass nouns, not that “numbers” itself is mass. I don’t know if I buy that such coercion results in a mass noun, but to give an example, it’s saying “sufficient cars” is infelicitous, because car is a count noun, but it can be made felicitous by using “numbers of”, as in “sufficient numbers of cars”. Make sense now?
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 12, 2021 at 12:44
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    @DanBron Please answer in the answer box. It helps the system keep track of which questions are satisfied and which aren't. A frame challenge is an acceptable answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 12, 2021 at 12:46
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    Nah, this doesn't deserve an official answer. The mistake is in treating Garner as an authority. This is just one of his crochets, and there's no reason to try to dissect it like a bible verse. Garner never learned about quantifiers; he thinks "mass/count" is pretty modern. Aug 12, 2021 at 14:17

2 Answers 2


Number in sentences such as

  • Add the three numbers together to find the total.

is obviously a count usage.

But in sentences such as

  • We have visited Paris a number of times. compare
  • We have visited Paris numerous/several/many times.

'a number of' is a compound quantifier taking a plural-form count usage such as 'times' (a number of / a dozen / 17 times). It is a fixed expression, certainly not including a count usage concerning 'number' (*17 numbers of times). But best seen as a largely invariant [fixed] expression (it can be modified: a large number of times; a sufficient number of voters).

We can also have sentences with 'numbers of' (often 'large numbers of', etc) again followed by a plural form count usage such as 'times':

  • Large numbers of tourists visit the island each year.

Again, 'numbers of' is an (in this case plural-form) fixed expression, another quantifier, certainly not including a count usage concerning 'number/s' (*17 numbers of tourists).

[English Grammar Today; Cambridge Dictionary has (adjusted):

We use the phrases a number of and numbers of with a plural verb [and plural-form noun phrase] when we mean ‘many’ or ‘several’:

  • There are a number of things we need to discuss.

  • A significant number of people are ill with flu.

  • Large numbers of bees have died because of the cold summer.

'Large numbers of' and 'a large number of' are closely synonymous, like 'lots of' and 'a lot of' (again see English Grammar Today; Cambridge Dictionary). But the first two compound quantifiers here can only be used with count usages (a large number of/large numbers of visitors; a lot of/lots of visitors/rice.


Is numbers a mass noun?

No, "numbers" is not a mass noun. You can simply consult the major learner's dictionaries, which provide more grammatical information than normal dictionaries, e.g., Oxford or MW.

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