a number of properties [how many?]

quietdandelion

Banned
Formosa/Chinese
That family is very rich and owns a number of properties within the city limits.



I'd like to pinpoint the meaning of "a number of." How many is "a number of?" A few or many? Thanks.
 
  • LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Interesting question. I'm never been quite sure whether it strictly equates to a few, or just a little more.
    There are several English expressions with the word number. In increasing order (I think)
    - a number of
    - a good number of (quite a few)
    - any number of (countless)

    Natives, feel free to correct.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    You cannot pinpoint the meaning.
    "a number of" is a very indeterminate figure.

    I would say at least 3, but it's very hard to say what the upper limit would be.
    May be 20.
     

    wildman

    Member
    English
    I can't stand this phrase.

    I come from a perspective of trying to be as specific as possible, and "a number of" never cuts it in that regard.

    A few years ago I re-read a Steinbeck classic (it might have been "Of Mice and Men"), and realized that one of the greats of the 20th century littered his prose with the phrase I find most offensive.

    Does "a number of" bother a number of people here more than one?
     

    wildman

    Member
    English
    How about, "The president vetoed a number of measures passed by congress today."

    or, "I have a number of friends in the history department."

    I just think "a number of" is a wordy and affected way of saying "several."
     

    wildman

    Member
    English
    Thanks, LV and Brioche.
    Thus, it's closer to "a few" than "many" in meaning, right?
    That's why, coming from a perspective of clarity and precision, I dislike the phrase "a number of." I dislike it almost as much as "literally," for different reasons.

    Technically, there's nothing wrong with "a number of," but it is a waste of syllables when you can say few or several.
     
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    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    You really can't say how many or even whether it's closer to "a few" than to "many." One person's idea of "many" properties might be different than another person's idea anyway. I would say all you really know for sure is that they own more than one property, and likely more than two. But they might own as many as 20 or 30 also. It really doesn't say.
     

    Salsamore

    Senior Member
    USA English (Mich. & Calif.)
    When I hear that, I imagine maybe 5-15.
    In this context, yes. In other contexts, the range might be different. To me, it generally means "a number that's unknown but likely to be impressive". For example:
    He has a number of things to do today.
    (Maybe 5-10, because that many to-do's in a day would be plenty.)

    There were a number of people in church this morning.
    (If the church capacity is 100, then 50 might be a good guess.)

    There are a number of stars in our galaxy.
    (In this case, any estimate under 1,000,000,000 would be ridiculously small.)
     

    losilmer

    Senior Member
    "A number of" equals some, any, or several, a couple of, a few.
    It would be better to say "a certain number of", but these are many words.


    I would understand several, not a great deal of properties.
    Here the exact amount is not necessary to know.
    The number is indetermined or indefinite.
     

    wildman

    Member
    English
    "A number of" equals some, any, or several, a couple of, a few.
    It would be better to say "a certain number of", but these are many words.


    I would understand several, not a great deal of properties.
    Here the exact amount is not necessary to know.
    The number is indetermined or indefinite.
    Can someone explain to me the value of this phrase? I never use it when writing or speaking, and when editing I always ask the writer for something more specific. I view it as a crutch for lazy writers, but perhaps there is a reason to use it I'm not getting.
     

    bouncy.bouncy

    Senior Member
    American/British English
    Can someone explain to me the value of this phrase? I never use it when writing or speaking, and when editing I always ask the writer for something more specific. I view it as a crutch for lazy writers, but perhaps there is a reason to use it I'm not getting.
    I also view it as one of those phrases to which you default when you want to sound more impressive than you are or when you have been using similar phrases too much and want some variation. Basically, it's only for journalists or people who aren't confident writers.
     

    wildman

    Member
    English
    I also view it as one of those phrases to which you default when you want to sound more impressive than you are or when you have been using similar phrases too much and want some variation. Basically, it's only for journalists or people who aren't confident writers.
    As a print journalist, I'm trying to get it banned from our publication, except in quotations of course. We have a local radio personality who uses it incessantly, three or four times an hour ... and he's a pretty sharp guy who holds a degree in English (I guess he's a Steinbeck fan, too).
     

    losilmer

    Senior Member
    How about, "The president vetoed a number of measures passed by congress today."

    or, "I have a number of friends in the history department."

    I just think "a number of" is a wordy and affected way of saying "several."
    Right, it means some, any, several, a few.

    A number of friends could be from 2 to a big number. Yes, it is, in my opinion, a way of saying that you have many (in a conceited way), even though you only have 2. Something of the kind. It is not a very fine phrase.
     

    wildman

    Member
    English
    Right, it means some, any, several, a few.

    A number of friends could be from 2 to a big number. Yes, it is, in my opinion, a way of saying that you have many (in a conceited way), even though you only have 2. Something of the kind. It is not a very fine phrase.
    A good phrase for politicians, corporate and government spokespersons, salespeople and other ambiguity merchants.
     

    gasman

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    I must admit I have no problems with the phrase, and I would never consider it to mean as few as 2.
     

    Mr.Slade

    Member
    U.S. English
    I can't stand this phrase.

    I come from a perspective of trying to be as specific as possible, and "a number of" never cuts it in that regard.

    A few years ago I re-read a Steinbeck classic (it might have been "Of Mice and Men"), and realized that one of the greats of the 20th century littered his prose with the phrase I find most offensive.

    Does "a number of" bother a number of people here more than one?
    "A number of..." has an implication different from any other word or phrase that might replace it, so I find it useful and inoffensive.

    Being as specific as possible is not always desirable, and all language have many ways of avoiding it.
     

    wildman

    Member
    English
    "A number of..." has an implication different from any other word or phrase that might replace it, so I find it useful and inoffensive.

    Being as specific as possible is not always desirable, and all language have many ways of avoiding it.
    Trained to question vagueness, my bs detector turns on when I see or hear the phrase. I find it a popular one among spinmeisters and fluff flingers.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think a key intent of the phrase can be vagueness! Perhaps the writer wishes to be vague (do editors allow an author this right or do they take it away ? :) ) or perhaps the writer isn't sure how many, perhaps they want the reader to get interested in how many. I'm a little surprised at the reaction to this phrase - but then I'm not an editor.

    On the other hand, if the text is intended to be informative, that's a specific case where obfuscation should certainly be eschewed.
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    The popularity of a phrase among this or that population does not make it their property and theirs alone.

    "A number of" is a nice synonym for "several". Sometimes we just don't have specific numerical data at our fingertips. It does not mean we are :warn: bullshitting (intentionally misleading people). (We prefer to write words out here, rather than using abbreviations that may not be clear to everyone. ;))

    "I read your proposal, and I agree with you on a number of points, but I cannot accept it as it stands."

    "I read your proposal, and I agree with you on several points, but I cannot accept it as it stands."

    I don't see anything wrong or unpleasant or grating or particularly misleading in either of these statements.
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Moderator note:

    I merged two threads that were having the same conversation simultaneously. For this reason, some of the posts up to this point may seem a little out of order. Sorry and thanks for your patience.

    Nun-Translator
     
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