a ... quantity of ...

raymondaliasapollyon

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

I learned that "a ... quantity of ..." is typically followed by uncountable nouns.
I'd like to know whether there are restrictions on it when it is followed by plural nouns.
For example, "a large quantity of clothes / drugs / groceries / seeds" sounds okay, but does "a sufficient quantity of public conveniences" sound natural?

I'd appreciate your help.
 
  • coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    does "a sufficient quantity of public conveniences" sound natural?

    Completely unnatural, although the sentence is legal (grammatically acceptable).
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    does "a sufficient quantity of public conveniences" sound natural?

    Completely unnatural, although the sentence is legal (grammatically acceptable).
    I am curious about what makes it unnatural. Maybe that's because "public convenience" refers to a fixed building?
    How about "a sufficient quantity of Porta Potties"?
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    haha, I thought you were talking about toilets. Why not just say toilets?

    "A sufficient quantity of public conveniences" sounds very stiff and quasi-formal, as though a person is trying to sound very formal and well-educated. In American English, this might be acceptable in some kind of 19th-century manual written for the Parks and Recreation Department. But most Americans nowadays would probably just say "lots of toilets" or "enough bathrooms" or, as you suggested, "enough Porta Potties." The phrase "a sufficient quantity" is absolutely correct English, but it sounds very stiff. It's probably perfect British English.:) It's also perfectly acceptable in some situations, as AnythingGoes said above; but I make the point about quasi-formality because ESL students often strive for more complicated expressions when simpler expressions are just better (most of the time).
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    haha, I thought you were talking about toilets. Why not just say toilets?

    "A sufficient quantity of public conveniences" sounds very stiff and quasi-formal, as though a person is trying to sound very formal and well-educated. In American English, this might be acceptable in some kind of 19th-century manual written for the Parks and Recreation Department. But most Americans nowadays would probably just say "lots of toilets" or "enough bathrooms" or, as you suggested, "enough Porta Potties." The phrase "a sufficient quantity" is absolutely correct English, but it sounds very stiff. It's probably perfect British English.:) It's also perfectly acceptable in some situations, as AnythingGoes said above; but I make the point about quasi-formality because ESL students often strive for more complicated expressions when simpler expressions are just better (most of the time).
    Degrees of formality aside, I'm more interested in the semantic restrictions on "a ... quantity of ..."
    What about "a large quantity of skyscrapers"?

    I suspect "a ... quantity of ..." is normally used with small objects that look indistinct together.
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    Excellent point. I doubt that anyone would say "a large quantity of skyscrapers." Your earlier point on mass and count nouns seems to apply here. We would say "a large number of skyscrapers."
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Excellent point. I doubt that anyone would say "a large quantity of skyscrapers." Your earlier point on mass and count nouns seems to apply here. We would say "a large number of skyscrapers."
    What about the Porta Potti example? Would you say "a large quantity of Porta Potties"?
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    "Quantity" is okay, but "number" is better. The general idea of not using "quantity" with count nouns kicks in again, not as an absolute in this instance, but as a generalized preference.

    Let me explain how it "feels" when a native speaker hears "quantity of Porta Potties." In my mind I see all the Porta Potties together (in one unit) in a huge shipping container. Which is to say, I see them actually as "one" big collection -- again, a nod to not using "quantity" with count nouns.

    Whereas when I hear "number" of Porta Potties, I imagine individual Porta Potties being brought to the park by small trucks, set up individually, etc. Not "one," but "many."

    So you see, this is the general idea that you should use "quantity" with noncount nouns.
     
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