"Most number of"

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Reader RG was surprised to see this in a BBC News item ("Violin world record broken in Taiwan", 9/18/2011):

A group of 4,645 violinists broke the world record for the most number of violins played simultaneously.

This sense of (the) most is presumably the superlative of many, and thus "the most number of violins" means the same thing as "the most violins". One motivation for adding the "number of" part may be that (the) most is also the superlative of much — in that case people sometimes specify "the most amount of". Thus another BBC News item, "Matthew Arnold pupils get chocolate for energy saving", 6/15/2011:

Matthew Arnold School was rewarded for saving the most amount of energy on Oxfordshire's School Switch Off day.

These uses don't seem to be covered in the OED's entry for most, but there are a couple of examples of "the most number" in quotes for other words:

2003 Western Daily Press (Bristol) (Nexis) 21 July 21   Hundreds of the giant pepperpot-like robots are descending on Wiltshire's Longleat estate in a bid to create a record for the most number of Daleks gathered in one place.

1572 Treat. Treasons against Q. Elizabeth ii. f. 169,   Speaking seuerally of the most number of them, whose iudgements are regardable.

Both idioms are fairly rare — there 19 examples of "the most number of" in the COCA corpus, and 30 examples of "the most amount of", for rates of 4 per 100 million and 7 per 100 million respectively. The BNC (in 100 million words) has 4 instances of "the most number of" and 2 instances of "the most amount of"

But these expressions are certainly Out There in the media, at what seem to be higher rates than these. Thus a current Google News search for "the most number of" returns 349 items dated within the past three weeks or so. If the rate is really 4 per 100 million words, this would imply that Google News is indexing about 9 billion words of current English-language news, which seems a little high to me.

Curiously, many of the hits from this search  are Asian — from the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, etc.:

PHL one of 15 nations with most number of Miss Universe Awards [headline]

A Filipino organisation from the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, garnered the most number of votes in the Filipino Community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates-Governing Council (Filcom-DNEGC) elections held on Friday afternoon at the new location of the Philippine Consulate General (PCG) on Beirut Street, Al Qusais.

Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) won the most number of gold medals at the three-day 2011 International Conference and Exposition on Inventions by Institutions of Higher Learning (Pecipta 2011) which ended Thursday.

Five Australians have made it to the Tour Championship in Atlanta representing a significant percentage of the 30 man field that will line up at East Lake Golf Club next week. It is the most number of Australians to have made it to the Tour Championship in the history of the event.

ICBT Campus the leading private sector Education Institute in Sri Lanka was awarded by Edexcel, UK as Sri Lanka's largest center with most number of students enrolled for Higher National Diploma (HND) programmes.

Basilica College, Ragama is one of the youngest schools in the country to have made a prominent name in the sports arena especially at cricket. As at today, Basilica is an upper school with classes for students of above the sixth grade and has 1525 students in both genders. It is the most popular school in the Ja-Ela division with the most number of students in attendance.

The organization has ranked the Philippines second among participating countries with the most number of volunteers.

"Possibly a new Australian record for metropolitan racing was established on Saturday, September 3, for the most number of runners on one day bred in the northern hemisphere competing," Brian Russell reported on his Racing And Breeding News.

But there are also things like this — Allison Jones, "Social media a powerful election tool but no match for door knocking: experts", The Globe and Mail 9/18/2011:

“The only reason we're doing any of this at the end of the day is not to have the most number of friends, most number of followers, any of that kind of stuff,” said Joseph Lavoie, the director of social media for the Progressive Conservative campaign.

“It's actually to get out the vote, because none of this is worth it if we don't win on election day.”

And this — "Local gymnasts working toward breaking handstand record", Corvallis Gazette Times, 9/16/2011:

Corvallis’ PEAK Elite gymnastic center is participating in a national event on Saturday to break a world record for the most number of handstands performed at the same time – and local residents are invited to join in the effort.

And a Google News search for "the most amount of" doesn't deliver the same Asian flavor.

These idioms have been around for a while, as indicated by a well-known passage in the Book of Common Prayer, here reproduced from a 1637 edition:

This probably reflects the fact that most was (is?) also the superlative of great.

The earliest examples that I've been able to find for "the most amount of" are instances from 1840. One is this lovely specimen of praeteritio from The Church of England Quarterly Review:

We say nothing of all this additional duty being expected to be done without remuneration, as it is pretty well known now, in spite of the ravings of interested demagogues and scribblers of sedition, that the clergy are the men, taking them generally, who do by the most amount of work for the least pay, and who are always the readiest to meet the heavy demands, whether for time or money, or grautitous labour, which are continually being made upon them.

The other 1840 instance is in a report on the Liberia Mission of the M.E. Church:

Bushrod Island.–We have no society here, but the word of God is preached to the few persons who can attend. The most amount of good is done to the poor sufferers at the almshouse. The poor "have the Gospel preached unto them," and it is not unfrequently made the power of God to their salvation in the dying hour.

Expressions like "the most amount/number of" are a natural target for the "omit needless words" squad: thus "the most number of violins" means essentially the same thing as "the most violins", and "the most amount of energy" means essentially the same thing as "the most energy". And the superlative use of most usually associates with plurals as the superlative of many ("the most votes") or with non-count nouns as the superlative of much ("the most money") — but both number and amount are problematic by this criterion, since they're singular count nouns. You could save this generalization by substituting expressions like "the largest number of violins" or "the greatest amount of energy".

Nevertheless, I'm not aware of any campaigns against "the most number of" or "the most amount of"; and neither string occurs in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.

(Please understand that I'm not lobbying to start such a campaign. I have nothing against well-established idioms like "the most number of" and "the most amount of", whose redundancy may serve to increase clarity. I'm just puzzled by the apparently failure of the Usual Suspects to defend the purity of the English language against the assault of illogical and word-wasting barbarians — with the first of the barbarians in this case being the Book of Common Prayer.)


  1. Eric P Smith said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 7:31 am

    My logical mind has railed against “the most number of” and “the most amount of” since I was a child.  Likewise I dislike “x number of” and “x amount of”: surely x is a number (respectively, an amount), so that logically I expect “He has x girlfriends” or, better, “he has an unknown number of girlfriends” and not “He has x number of girlfriends.

    As I grow older, for the sake of my sanity I am trying to train myself to accept all these expressions without thinking any the less of the speaker, while maintaining strict logic in my own speech.

  2. Nathan said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 7:40 am

    Of course, "He has x girlfriends" is needlessly ambiguous when spoken.

  3. Arnold Zwicky said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 8:16 am

    The Stanford OI! Project — one report here — looked at 30 handbooks and didn't find any pronouncements on "most number/amount of" (as an instance of Omit Needless Words).

  4. Teresa G said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    A good example of the "superlative of many" vs. "superlative of most" that ml mentioned would be:

    He has the most hair on his chest…
    He has the most number of hairs on his chest…

    Because of the possibility of saying "most hair" I feel like "most hairs" feels odd without "number of" in there. So perhaps examples like this helped encourage the use of "most number of" even in cases where there is no mass counterpart. Just a guess.

  5. Chris Kern said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "He has 7 number of girlfriends"; is that what you meant by "x number of"?

  6. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 9:34 am

    Do you suppose this is part of the same phenomenon as the common use of "tallest height", "widest width", "longest length", and so on?

    [(myl) To me, it seems more like the pattern in your next comment, "x number of people", etc,, since "x people" is also common, and corresponds more to what is expected if 'x' is a placeholder for numbers.]

  7. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    @Chris Kern: No, he surely means literally "x number of girlfriends": he's describing the use of "x" as a variable, not using it as one himself. (See http://www.google.com/search?q=x-number-of for plenty of examples of what he's referring to.)

  8. rootlesscosmo said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    I wonder, do prescriptivists who insist that "disinterested" must mean "impartial" also insist that "interested" can only mean "biased" or "tendentious" as in the C of E Quarterly quote?

  9. Lucus said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 10:10 am

    For some reason, I find "most amount of" to be slightly more acceptable than "most number of", just going off my own sense of Sprachgefühl. Maybe I hear it slightly more times of often or even use it more times of often (sorry, bad joke).

  10. C Thornett said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    Words such as 'biggest' or 'largest' would seem to collocate with 'number' and 'amount'. I would be less surprised to find 'most number/amount' in NNES speech or writing. Or could this be the kind phrasing which often results from changing one word or phrase and forgetting to change something else to match? I'm sure someone has coined a term for that, but I can't immediately recall it.

  11. C Thornett said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 10:30 am

    @rootlesscosmo: Wouldn't the writer of the C of E article have meant 'interested' to mean 'having a financial or similar interest in' or 'gaining benefit from', rather than simply biased or tendentious? Bias and benefit or interest in this sense are not, of course, mutually exclusive.

  12. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 10:35 am

    Are there other lexical or syntactic phenomena that are more common in both Australian and South / Southeast Asian versions of English than elsewhere? I don't think of Australia as "Asian" in a sense that would be salient to the English spoken or written there, but perhaps I've missed an interesting pattern.

  13. Rob Grayson said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    Thanks for the fascinating survey.

    What fascinates me the most is that these usages are so common as to lead Prof Liberman to refer to them as "well-established idioms"; I think I've somehow always associated them with "uneducated" use – an assumption which is clealry belied by the citation from the Book of Common Prayer.

    [(myl) My initial reaction was also that these examples are editing errors, foreigners' mistakes, or perhaps non-standard forms. But I'm now leaning towards the view that they reflect the (mostly obsolete) status of most as a superlative of great (suppletive for "greatest"), attested to by the OED. I'd still lean towards urging students not to use them in formal writing, since it's clear that some people at least will be taken aback (even though there's apparently no peevological literature on the topic), and there are generally a number of plausible alternatives.]

  14. Andrew said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    I think I'd previously attributed such usage to editing mistakes, such as getting distracted midway through changing "most" to "greatest number" or vice versa, and hadn't realised it was common enough to suggest it was an idiom in its own right.

  15. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

    I hear and see these a lot in northern New Mexico, along with "least number" and "least amount" and "shortest amount of time" and the like. And I have crossed out the redundant words on student work (or changed "least number" to "fewest"), since I don't consider them standard academic English. Perhaps I'm a one-man brigade. I probably don't do it consistently, though.

  16. Eric P Smith said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

    @Chris Kern: Ran Ari-Gur has understood me correctly.
    @Ran Ari-Gur: Thanks.

  17. Dan Hemmens said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    While I'd shy away from "most number of" myself, I can see why people might find them helpful since a lot of things can be measured in different ways.

    If you have 20 potatoes, with a total mass of 2kg, and I have 30 smaller potatoes with a total mass of 1.5kg, then you have the most amount of potatoes, while I have the most number.

    I suspect that this might also be one of those redundancies which occurs more in speech than writing, where the added emphasis is useful. I can certainly imagine saying "whoever saves the most amount of energy" or perhaps "whoever collects the most number of signatures" but I don't think I'd use them in writing.

    Finally, I'd note that "the most amount of X" falls nicely into iambs, which might explain some of its popularity even when strictly redundant.

  18. Richard Sabey said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    @rootlesscosmo Not necessarily; to infer that they would would be as reasonable as to suppose that anyone who thinks that "amoral" must mean "outside the domain of morality" must also think that "moral" must mean "inside the domain of morality".

  19. languageandhumor said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

    Ignoring the hard-to-check plain "most" form, the disparity in Google hits between the forms with "amount" and those with "number" is interesting. "The most amount of" is about the same as "the greatest amount of" and "the largest amount of." However, "most number" is much less than the other forms, less than half of what you get for "largest."

    "the most amount of": 5.0 million ghits (28%)
    "the greatest amount of": 6.4 million ghits (36%)
    "the largest amount of": 6.6 million ghits (37%)

    "the most number of": 8.7 million ghits (21%)
    "the greatest number of": 12.1 million ghits (29%)
    "the largest number of": 20.7 million ghits (50%)

  20. Dan Hemmens said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

    Likewise I dislike “x number of” and “x amount of”: surely x is a number

    I don't think that quite holds. "X" is a variable, but it doesn't have to be a number. You could have "X number of girlfriends" or "X type of girlfriends", it seems reasonable to distinguish.

  21. Russell said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    Searched scholar.google.com for ["most number of" quantifier] and found a paper that suggests that the quantifiers several, few, and many always appear with a silent NUMBER lexical item.

    Several, few and many, Richard S. Kayne. Lingua Volume 117, Issue 5, May 2007, Pages 832-858

    If you don't have access to Lingua, an early draft with mostly data is here: http://as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/2652/Kayne0605Several.pdf

    He cites "most number of" as ungrammatical, but says that he has heard sentences with it. Perhaps he was thinking of Pauline Jacobson's "Where (if anywhere) is transderivationality located?" which contains the phrase "the derivation with the most number of steps."

    Interesting, though, that (as Kayne points out) "the fewest number of" is close to, perhaps completely, perfect, while "a few number of" sounds horrible.

    [(myl) Theory! Thanks…]

  22. Rod Johnson said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

    There's a class of words that is typically used in that slot–biggest, greatest, highest, etc.–and it wouldn't surprise me if some speakers have reanalyzed most as belonging to that class. It's semantically and phonologically similar enough that it seems plausible. Plus there are muddled paradigms like this:

    a. *She is the greatest intelligent student in the class
    b. She is the most intelligent student in the class
    c. ?She has the greatest intelligence of all the students
    d. ?She has the most intelligence of all the students

    I think a lot of people would feel that d. was stylistically unacceptable, but possibly not ungrammatical. On the other hand, I also think a lot of other people might have trouble uttering c. on grounds ranging from clunkiness to a sense of modesty, even though it might be fully grammatical in the abstract. In this situation, I think it's hard for a language learner to get enough data, outside of a learned setting, to develop a clear sense of what the rules should be. So there's a certain amount of bleeding between theoretically distinct categories that goes on.

  23. Will said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

    Wow, what fascinated me most about this is that the forms "most number of" and "most amount of" seemed utterly unremarkable to me, as they seem so standard. Live and learn, I guess.

    myl wrote:

    I'd still lean towards urging students not to use them in formal writing, since it's clear that some people at least will be taken aback (even though there's apparently no peevological literature on the topic), and there are generally a number of plausible alternatives.

    These phrases have a number of plausible alternatives, but I wonder what phrases have the most number of plausible alternatives…

  24. languageandhumor said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    Re: Eric P Smith's "x number of" and "x amount of":

    In this specific case, I think people would prefer "He has x number of girlfriends" to "He has x girlfriends" because the latter sounds like "He has ex-girlfriends." Similarly, "If x number of presidents in any generation are good…" is better than "If x presidents [not "ex-presidents"] in any generation are good…"

  25. Andy Averill said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    A quick search of Google Books suggests that the phrase had two different meanings in the past. Before the late 19th century, it shows up mostly in legal statutes (ecclesiastical or secular) and usually means "the majority of":

    1550 "Such form and manner of making and consecrating of archbishops… and other ministers of the church, as by six prelates, and six other men of this realm learned in God's law, by the King to be appointed and assigned, or by the most number of them, shall be devised for that purpose… [statute of Edward VI]"

    It isn't until around 1870 that we get the meaning "the highest number of", especially in American writing:

    1870 "We learn from nearly all to whom we have put the question, that a strong swarm will fill a ten or fifteen pound box nearly as soon as they will fill a six pound box. If such be the case, the large box is the one to use, to gather the most number of pounds." [American Bee Journal]

    1897 "The nurseries seem to have been troubled by plant diseases but little in 1897. Pear blight was mentioned the most number of times." [Proceedings of the New York State Horticultural Society]

    1895 "Q. Why do you put Al Adams first? A. Al has the most number of sheets, and he is the biggest man, and has the most money, and has the biggest pile." [transcript of court proceeding investigating the policy racket, New York]

    There's also a British example from a hearing in the House of Commons in 1867:

    "[Q] What is the most number of engines you have ever known to converge on one great fire? [A] I have known as many as 30 engines to be present at a large dock fire, and upwards of 100 men."

    [(myl) Interesting. I guess that the Book of Common Prayer example could be treated as meaning "the majority of" as well. And a shift in the 19th C would coincide with the development of "the most amount of".]

  26. Mark F. said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

    What is needed is a corpus where the sources have been scored separately for formality and care in editing. That kind of data would let you advise students against some constructions on solid empirical grounds, without having to frame it as simply satisfying the ignorant prejudices of potential readers. And other constructions would probably be shown more clearly to be acceptable at all levels of formality.

    [(myl) In fact, I don't think this is a case where anyone's linguistic instincts are "ignorant". There are some people whose internalization of the norms of English says that "the most number of" is not grammatical — and those people have some reasons on their side, including the rarity of the construction, the distribution of most in other uses, and so on. There are other people who find "the most number of" perfectly normal, and they have some arguments on their side as well.]

  27. Charidan said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

    "In fact, I don't think this is a case where anyone's linguistic instincts are 'ignorant'."

    I have to agree with myl here. Rod Johnston tested out a few sentences a few posts back, and although he made perfectly plausible arguments as to why each might be shied away from, I was perfectly comfortable with all three sentences (with "a" having a clear disagreement between "greatest" and "intelligent").

    I think that the redundant specification of "number" or "amount" serves to refocus attention on the quantity as a whole as opposed to the object or the size of bundles it may come in.

  28. Rubrick said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

    Continuing in my effort to get a comment excised for off-topicity, I'd just like to mention the Roman guy who used to date porn stars, and his XX XXX ex-girlfriends.

  29. Eric P Smith said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

    @Rubrick: I expect that all XX XXX ex-girlfriends had XX karyotype.

  30. Alex said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

    Dan Hemmens:

    If you have 20 potatoes, with a total mass of 2kg, and I have 30 smaller potatoes with a total mass of 1.5kg, then you have the most amount of potatoes, while I have the most number.

    While true that you would have the most number of potatoes, it would not be right to say I have the most amount of potatoes. Rather, I would say I had the most amount of potato (i.e. no plural).

  31. Adrian said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

    I notice that the second BBC article also contains the infelicitous "an average of 28% reduction in energy had happened across all the schools".

  32. John Roth said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    @rootlesscosmo: I agree with C. Thornett: disinterested appears to be an antonym of interest in the sense of "he has a quarter interest in a gold mine", or "he has an interest in appearing to be tough on crime for the next election." Or in academic work, "he has an interest in a company that stands to benefit from his paper's conclusion."

    Then the formation would be parallel to disinherited. This is, of course, wild speculation – I have no evidence to back it up.

  33. crazybandit said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    Actually, the SAT considers "the most number of" redundant and hence erroneous. One of the questions in the Identifying Errors portion of the Writing section was to find the error in this sentence (I'll put the answer choices in brackets):

    "The radio station received [the most number of] calls from listeners [on the evening] [it] aired a discussion of [the music of] Aretha Franklin."

    The phrase "the most number of calls" was considered ungrammatical (it was the answer).

  34. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    By the way, COHA has 55 hits on "less amount", trailing off a century ago. The last is from 1980. If it were the Corpus of Contemporary Northern New Mexican English, it would have hits from 2011.

    It has only one hit on "more amount".

    Speaking of "shortest amount of time", which I was though nobody else was, Google is also familiar with "lighter amount of weight" (the hits on the first page are all about weightlifting), "stronger amount of force" (only 61 hits), and stuff like that. I'm pleased to say that "louder amount of noise" and "longer amount of length" are quite rare. Is this the same redundant "amount of"?

    The redundant addition to "speed" is of course "rate of".

  35. David J. Littleboy said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 4:30 am

    Count me in with Will. "The most number of" is unremarkable. Heck, it's even useful for emphasis, focusing on the point that it's the count that's interesting. And I don't find it surprising that it gets 8 million googits (of which this page is the first). In contrast, "the most amount of" strikes me as ugly. But it still gets 5 million googits. Go figure. (I've had my doubts about the validity of Google counts for a while now, though.)

  36. Dan H said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 6:13 am

    While true that you would have the most number of potatoes, it would not be right to say I have the most amount of potatoes. Rather, I would say I had the most amount of potato (i.e. no plural).

    I'm not sure that's true.

    If we drop the controversial construction, it would be perfectly reasonable to say "the largest mass of potatoes" or "the most potatoes by mass" or if we put them all end-to-end and yours went further "the longest line of potatoes" or if we put them in a bag and yours was bigger "the greatest volume of potatoes." More simply, you say "two kilos of potatoes" and not "two kilos of potato".

    I will concede that "amount" is ambiguous (in that it *could* still refer to number) but I strongly suspect (on the basis only of anecdotal evidence) that it's fairly common to use "potatoes" to mean both "individual potato items" and "potato matter".

  37. John Ross said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 9:02 am

    Mr Liberman says "These uses don't seem to be covered in the OED's entry for most", but one of them is mentioned in my (old, 1986) Shorter Oxford (it was a 2 vol, 3,000 page thing). True, the meanings given suggest that 'most' is an indicator of the largest number or amount so making these words redundant when used with it, but the first etymological quote for 'most' as an a. reads "The m. number shall have the choice and election 1579." And it seems to me that objections to this sort of tautology as grammatically wrong are a sort of attempt to make grammar a branch of logic or even mathematics. In real language, we say the same thing twice all the time, it avoids misunderstandings – redundancy is good, ask any engineer.

    @Rubrick. If the twentieth girl to leave an Italian man were an Australian-beer-drinking porn star, would that make her an XXXX XXX XX X?

  38. Eric P Smith said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    @John Ross: I think that, in your 1579 quote, “the most number” means the majority, as it does in Mark Liberman’s 1572 quote, Andy Averill’s 1550 quote, and the 1637 Book of Common Prayer quote. There is still nothing in this thread to persuade me that “the most number” meaning “the greatest number” dates from any earlier than 1867.

    Mark Liberman and a number of readers suggest that “the most number of” is bad because it is redundant. To me, the problem is not redundancy but plain syntax. I am one of that set of people mentioned by Mark “whose internalisation of the norms of English says that the most number of is not grammatical” (beautifully put, Mark, thankyou). Despite my efforts to retrain myself, “the most number of” meaning “the greatest number of” still sounds just as wrong to my ears as “Seven is a more number than five.”

    I have no difficulty with “the least number”. It is not analogous to “the most number”, because the use of “most” meaning “greatest” is controversial, whereas the use of “least” meaning “littlest” has a long and continuous history over many centuries, especially in connection with numbers (“least common multiple” etc), as well as being familiar to many of us from the St James Bible and from hymnody ("the least of these my brethren", "to greatest as to least" etc). And to anyone who says to me, “but you wouldn’t say five is a lesser number than seven” my answer is, “yes, I would.”

  39. John Ross said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 11:54 am

    @Eric Smith: I'm afraid I don't understand the difference between "the most (or larger) number" and "the majority," if we are comparing two numbers, and if there are more than two, the party with the most (or largest) number of votes still wins the election, it's just that what happens afterwards is not as predictable. And if you think Mark Liberman has suggested that the expression is bad, you didn't read all the way to the bottom of the post, where he says, specifically, "I have nothing against well-established idioms like "the most number of" and "the most amount of", whose redundancy may serve to increase clarity. " Whereas an excess of logic can obfuscate – I once heard my grandfather, a chemist of some brilliance in his day, insist that "a lot of objects" should take a singular verb.

  40. Rod Johnson said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

    David J. Littleboy: "And I don't find it surprising that it gets 8 million googits…"

    Yes, but you say "googits."

  41. Ken M said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

    "Most number"? Is it like numb and number, except superlative?

  42. Eric P Smith said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

    @John Ross. I seem to have irked you somewhat, and I am sorry.

    You are right to correct me on what I said about Mark Liberman’s position. Indeed he does not suggest that “the most number of” is bad. What I meant to say is that Mark and a number of his readers suggest that the issue with “the most number of” is its redundancy. For me the issue is not redundancy but syntax.

    I still hold, however, to what I said about the archaic meaning of “the most number of” and the modern meaning. Indeed I did not think I was being at all controversial: I was merely following the distinction that was correctly pointed out by Andy Averill in his comment and acknowledged by Mark Liberman in his postscript to that comment. Let me explain.

    All the instances of “most number of” in this thread are dated either in or before 1637, or in or after 1867. The construction in the earlier period and the construction in the later period are quite different.

    All the instances of “most number of” in this thread from 1867 onwards are concerned with counting two or more sets of some class of object, and returning the greatest count. Thus “the most number of violins played simultaneously” is concerned with counting the number of violins being played at a certain venue in Taiwan during a certain timespan of 5 minutes last week (4645 violins), the number of violins that were being played at a certain venue in London during a certain short timespan in 1925 (4000 violins), the number of violins being played at… (and so on), and returning the greatest count (4645 violins). Likewise we read of “the most number of Daleks gathered in one place”; “the most number of runners on one day”, “the most number of handstands performed at the same time” and so on. In every instance, we are concerned with counting two or more sets of some class of object. The words “the most number of” are immediately followed by the class name in the plural: violins, Daleks, runners, handstands. The sets to be counted are either implied, or explicitly defined in an adjunct to the class name: “violins played simultaneously”, “Daleks gathered in one place”, “runners on one day”, “handstands performed at the same time”. In every instance, the words “number of” can be omitted without changing the meaning. In no instance is there any sense of “the majority of”.

    By contrast, all three instances of “the most number of” in this thread dated 1637 or earlier mean “most of ” or “the majority of”. The syntax is quite different. Generally there is no class name. In two of the instances, instead of a class name there is the pronoun “them”. In the one instance where there is a class name it is the very general “people” and there is no adjunct defining sets of people to be counted. Thus:

    (1550) “by six prelates and six other men … or by the most number of them” means “by most of the 12 persons mentioned” or “by the majority of the 12 persons mentioned”;
    (1572) “Speaking seuerally of the most number of them, whose iudgements are regardable” means “most of them” or “the majority of them”;
    (1637) “Sundays and other Holy-days, when the most number of People may come together” means “when most people may come together” or “when the majority of people may come together” (which they did, on Sundays in 1637). I don’t think it means “when more people may come together than at any other time”.

    In the first two of these three instances, deleting the words “number of” destroys the grammaticality. In none of the three instances is there any question of comparing two or more counts and returning the greatest count.

    I cannot with certainty fit the 1579 example “The most number shall have the choice and election” into the same pattern, because I have not enough context to be sure of the meaning. But I think it will mean “the majority”, as I said in my last post. In any case it is different from all other instances of “the most number” in this thread in that “the most number” is not immediately followed by “of”.

    Thank you, John, for your comment, and I hope I have now been able to explain my point more clearly than in my last post.

  43. John Ross said,

    September 21, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    Sorry if I sounded shirty, I try not to. I'm not a linguist as such, just a working technical translator, but I see the distinction you are making in terms of syntax, if only dimly, and in any case I don't understand why it should make either usage wrong. And please don't take this as my being irked in any way, but you're still not reading properly – the undersignatory to the lucid comment by Andy Averill is one Mark F, not L.

  44. Eric P Smith said,

    September 21, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

    @John Ross

    Don’t worry.  I am not a linguist either, just a fascinated amateur.

    I never called the modern usage wrong.  I said that my mind rails against it, and that my internalisation of the norms of English tells me that it is not grammatical.  I have nothing against those whose internalisation of the norms of English tell them otherwise.  As I said in my first comment (September 19, 2011 @ 7:31 am) I try to train myself to accept it.  I understand the merit of descriptive grammar.

    The “postscript” to Andy Averill’s comment that I referred to is not Mark F.’s following comment, but the 3 lines that Mark Liberman has appended in red to Andy’s comment.  Mark Liberman identifies himself with his initials (myl) at the start of the appendage.

    But I think we understand each other better now. Thanks.

  45. John Ross said,

    September 21, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

    There you are then, it's me who doesn't read properly, not you.

  46. David J. Littleboy said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 3:31 am

    "Yes, but you say "googits.""

    Doesn't everyone? It's been standard usage amongst Japanese to English translators for almost a decade.

  47. Rod Johnson said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    By the usual crude measure, no:

    googits: 4460 google hits
    ghits: 52,200 google hits

    …but my comment was just a joke, no offfense intended.

  48. Peter said,

    December 18, 2013 @ 3:13 am

    Definition of "most": greatest in number of. So I wouldn't use "the most number of", as it would be like saying "the greatest in number of number of". Instead, I'd stick to "the highest/largest/greatest number of". The former just sounds redundant.

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