Teeming with and abundant (The language of large amounts and numbers, Part 1)

close-up of a man's hands holding a large pile of small yellow soya beans
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by Kate Woodford

Today, I’m looking at the language we use to describe large amounts or numbers of things. Of course, words that mean ‘very large’ such as huge and massive, are often used in this way, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on words and phrases which refer specifically to large amounts and numbers. It’s a very rich area of the language so the post will be in two parts.

Starting with two adjectives that have very positive connotations, if a good thing is plentiful or abundant, a lot of it exists or is available:

The gardens ensure a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables.

The region is known for its huge meadows and abundant wildlife

The adjective bountiful means the same, but is rather literary in tone:

Farmers were duly rewarded this year with a bountiful harvest.

The adjective copious means ‘in very large amounts’. It is often used before a plural noun and suggests that the amount is surprisingly large:

She drinks copious quantities of black coffee throughout the day.

I noticed he took copious notes during the meeting.

Ample, meanwhile, means ‘enough, or more than enough’:

Luckily for the eagles, there’s an ample supply of rabbits and squirrels. / There’s ample parking outside the hotel.

A generous amount of something is larger than usual or larger than expected, often in a good way:

The pie came with a generous helping of vegetables.

The adjectives substantial and considerable are also used to mean ‘large in amount’:

Both companies have already laid off substantial numbers of employees.

I’m afraid we lost a considerable amount of money.

The adjective numerous  means ‘many’ and the adjectives innumerable and countless mean ‘too many to be counted’:

She’s won numerous awards for her work.

There have been innumerable instances of voter intimidation.

He’s a match for anyone, as he has proved on countless occasions.

In UK English, if a place is well off for a particular thing, it has a lot of that thing:

We’re fairly well off for cafes in this village.

Moving on from adjectives, a number of verbs and phrasal verbs are used to convey large amounts or numbers. For example, if a place abounds in/with things or things abound somewhere, there are a lot of them there:

The whole island abounds in wildlife.

Fish abound in the nearby river.

Similarly, to bristle with something is to have a lot of those things:

This whole city is being developed and the skyline bristles with cranes.

Somewhere that teems with animals or people has a lot of them:

At this time of the year, the meadows teem with wildlife.

I hope this post has provided you with a plentiful supply of adjectives and verbs for describing large amounts and numbers. In Part 2, I’ll look at nouns and phrases in this area.

28 thoughts on “Teeming with and abundant (The language of large amounts and numbers, Part 1)

  1. Emel

    Hi, thanks for your posts which are useful and interesting.
    I have noticed a tendency for people to use the words amount and less instead of number and fewer when talking about countable nouns. For example, speakers say ‘There’s a large amount of people here today’ and ‘There are less people here than yesterday.’ instead of ‘There’s a large number of people’ and ‘There are fewer people here than yesterday.’ What do you think about this?

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Emel. Thanks for this. I’m so happy you find my posts useful. You’re absolutely right about amount/number and less/fewer. I’m fairly certain most people whose mother tongue is English say ‘less people’ rather than ‘fewer people’. Best wishes from Cambridge.

      1. Alexandr Viktorovich

        Dear Kate Woodford,
        Could you tell me what the right way to say is less people or fewer people?

      2. Kate Woodford

        Hi Alexandr! Strictly speaking, ‘fewer people’ is grammatically correct. I’m sorry if my response to Emel’s query was confusing. I simply meant that lots of people use ‘less’ where the grammatically correct choice is ‘fewer’. All the best to you!

  2. mapyziakhotmailcom

    Dear Kate Woodford,
    Many thanks for yet another grand compilation fo phrases. I am always learning from and forever in awe of your writing. And, English being my second language, I would like to thank you for broadening my views in so many ways.
    Thankful reader,

  3. Abdi

    Thank you Kate for your insightful opinion on this issue. Now my question: I learned that some things that are not countable do not get “s” to show a plural form of them, e.g. water or air. But I see that people use “emails”. Isn’t this a contradiction to the general rule? Thank you.

    1. E-mail is very countable, indeed.

      For example someone might have 1309 or 20548 e-mails in their inbox.

      So I would like to have less e-mail to read and you can probably see that 1309 e-mails are fewer than 20845.

      Particles of air and drops of water may be countable – but water and air themselves as entities are not countable.

  4. Abdi

    Also, my second question for Ms. Kate Woodford: I had learned in my home country that “ ‘s “ is used to indicate possession for only live owners, such as “my brother’s jacket”, and can not be used for objects. So the “building’s door” is not correct, and must be “the door of the building”. Can you kindly comment on this? Thank you.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Abdi! An interesting question and I’m not sure there’s a clear-cut answer! I think some people try to avoid it by saying, for example, ‘The surface of the road’ or ‘the road surface’ but I would be perfectly happy to talk about ‘the road’s surface’ (and I suspect lots of people would). That said, if I were writing a formal letter, I would probably avoid it. I hope that helps!

  5. Kuol Monyjei Ajak

    Thank for your clarification and elaboration of this lesson of definitions of different vocabularies’, having said I have realizes and know the different meaning.

  6. Ken.

    Although ‘ fewer ‘ people is gramatically correct, I believe it begs the question : Fewer than when, who, what, etc.
    In other words, it requires a comparison to qualify the use of ‘ fewer ‘.
    I stand corrected.

  7. Peter

    It’s amazing. I am lucky to come across your article. I will continue to read your work to make my english better. Thanks

  8. Pushpa

    Thank.you for this
    Explaining and giving ex with context certainly helps.Englush is a beautiful language

  9. Hi Kate, Thanks for your beautiful article,
    I look for beautiful hearty poetic words to use in my poems:
    Fewer is a beautiful poetic word…
    “The adjective numerous  means ‘many’ and the adjective’s innumerable and
    countless means ‘too many to be counted” 
    Numerous and countless can be used in poetry when the exact stanza needs them.
    “bristle with” is likewise to be used in poems…

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