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

  • 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

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