Sum / Amount

September 15, 2009
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Teresa from Hong Kong asks:

I would like to know the difference between the words “sum” and “amount”. They have similar meanings. I am really confused by their differences in usage. Thank you very much!

Mark Shea answers:

Hi Teresa, I liked your question. It’s a bit more complicated than it first appears.

If you look up ’sum’ in the dictionary – and I did – you’ll see that the first meaning given is “an amount of money”, so we might say that a million pounds is a very large sum, or that it is a substantial amount of money.

A sum of money and an amount of money are effectively the same thing. They’re also grammatically similar – they’re both countable nouns and have plurals: ’sums’ and ‘amounts’. But both words have other meanings too.

A sum is a calculation, for instance…
“I was never any good at sums at school”, I might say.
‘Sum’ can also mean ‘total’ – there was a film recently called “The Sum of all Fears”.
We can also use ‘the sum’ to suggest that all of something is not sufficient, for example:
“If that’s the sum of your ideas, I’m sorry I asked.” This means that the person is not happy with the ideas that they’ve been given.

(http://www.171english.cn/wordpress/?p=278)

Teresa from Hong Kong asks:

I would like to know the difference between the words “sum” and “amount”. They have similar meanings. I am really confused by their differences in usage. Thank you very much!

Mark Shea answers:

Hi Teresa, I liked your question. It’s a bit more complicated than it first appears.

If you look up ’sum’ in the dictionary – and I did – you’ll see that the first meaning given is “an amount of money”, so we might say that a million pounds is a very large sum, or that it is a substantial amount of money.

A sum of money and an amount of money are effectively the same thing. They’re also grammatically similar – they’re both countable nouns and have plurals: ’sums’ and ‘amounts’. But both words have other meanings too.

A sum is a calculation, for instance…
“I was never any good at sums at school”, I might say.
‘Sum’ can also mean ‘total’ – there was a film recently called “The Sum of all Fears”.
We can also use ‘the sum’ to suggest that all of something is not sufficient, for example:
“If that’s the sum of your ideas, I’m sorry I asked.” This means that the person is not happy with the ideas that they’ve been given.

(http://www.171english.cn/wordpress/?p=278)