Mixups unmixed: ‘A Number of Variables’ or ‘An Amount of Data?’

Hello, hello! Welcome to your English phrase workout – “Mixups Unmixed!”

Again this month, we’re exploring sets of words that scientists tend to confuse in their papers. Your challenge: guess the correct use of these words. Your reward: confirmation that your language skills are excellent if you successfully complete all the quizzes or if you don’t, a minor English refresher.

Are you ready? Off we go!

1. An Amount of vs. A Number of

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “We observed an amount of bacteria in the sample.”
  • b) “We observed a number of bacteria in the sample.”

‘An amount of’ is used with uncountable nouns, namely any quantity where you can’t count individual units. For example: “We added a large amount of water to the solution.”

‘A number of’ fits with countable nouns, i.e., things you can count. For instance: “A number of studies have confirmed the link between exercise and cognitive function.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

2. There vs. They’re vs. Their

Many students stumble over these three soundalikes. Can you tell them apart?

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “Their appears to be a direct link between the decrease in pollinator populations and the changes in plant reproduction rates.”
  • b) “They’re appears to be a direct link between the decrease in pollinator populations and the changes in plant reproduction rates.”
  • c) “There appears to be a direct link between the decrease in pollinator populations and the changes in plant reproduction rates.”

‘Their’ is a possessive pronoun used to indicate ownership or possession. For instance: “Their results were groundbreaking.”

‘They’re’ is the contraction for ‘they are.’ For example: “They’re excited about the project.”

‘There’ is used to indicate the existence or presence of something. For example, “There is a significant difference in the results.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

3. Dependant vs. Dependent

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “The research progress is dependant on funding.”
  • b) “The research progress is dependent on funding.”

‘Dependant’ is a noun that refers to a person who relies on another, especially for financial support. For instance, “When filling out the insurance form, he listed his elderly father as a dependant.”

‘Dependent’ is an adjective that describes something that relies on something else. For instance: “Data accuracy in this field study is heavily dependent on the precision of the measuring instruments used.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

4. Stationary vs. Stationery

This one is also tricky!

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “The Earth’s rotation makes the sun appear stationery in the sky.”
  • b) “The Earth’s rotation makes the sun appear stationary in the sky.”

‘Stationery’ (with an ‘e’) is a noun that refers to writing materials like paper, envelopes, and pens. For instance, “Every new employee receives a set of personalized stationery.”

‘Stationary’ (with an ‘a’) is an adjective that means not moving or being at rest. For example, “The car was stationary at the traffic light for what seemed like an eternity.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

5. Averse vs. Adverse

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “Certain species of fish are averse to high salinity levels, preferring freshwater environments for their habitat.”
  • b) “Certain species of fish are adverse to high salinity levels, preferring freshwater environments for their habitat.”

‘Averse’ means having a strong dislike of or opposition to something. For example, “I am averse to the idea of working late hours.”

‘Adverse’ refers to something harmful or unfavorable. For instance, “Adverse weather conditions delayed the launch.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

The Solutions!

Let’s check how well you did.

1. An Amount of vs. A Number of

  • a) “We observed an amount of bacteria in the sample.”
  • b) “We observed a number of bacteria in the sample.”

The correct answer is b). ‘A number of’ is the correct choice because bacteria are countable, even though they are microscopic. When you can count the individual entities, such as bacteria, studies, or cells, you should use ‘a number of.’

2. There vs. They’re vs. Their

  • a) “Their appears to be a direct link between the decrease in pollinator populations and the changes in plant reproduction rates.”
  • b) “They’re appears to be a direct link between the decrease in pollinator populations and the changes in plant reproduction rates.”
  • c) “There appears to be a direct link between the decrease in pollinator populations and the changes in plant reproduction rates.”

The correct answer is c). ‘There’ is used to indicate existence or presence, fitting perfectly in the context of suggesting the existence of a link. ‘Their’ indicates possession, and ‘they’re’ is a contraction for ‘they are,’ neither of which would be correct in this context.

3. Dependant vs. Dependent

  • a) “The research progress is dependant on funding.”
  • b) “The research progress is dependent on funding.”

The correct answer is b). ‘Dependent’ is an adjective describing something contingent or reliant on something else, which in this case is the research progress being reliant on funding. ‘Dependant’ as a noun would not fit this context.

4. Stationary vs. Stationery

  • a) “The Earth’s rotation makes the sun appear stationery in the sky.”
  • b) “The Earth’s rotation makes the sun appear stationary in the sky.”

The correct answer is b). ‘Stationary’ means not moving, which correctly describes how the sun appears from Earth due to its rotation. ‘Stationery’ refers to writing materials, which has no relevance to the context of the sun’s apparent movement.

5. Averse vs. Adverse

  • a) “Certain species of fish are averse to high salinity levels, preferring freshwater environments for their habitat.”
  • b) “Certain species of fish are adverse to high salinity levels, preferring freshwater environments for their habitat.”

The correct answer is a). ‘Averse’ is used correctly here to indicate a strong dislike or reluctance, which is how the fish feel about high salinity levels. ‘Adverse’ would imply harmful effects, which might also be true but doesn’t align with the structure of this sentence.

Whether you nailed all the answers or learned something new, you’re enhancing your scientific vocabulary one step at a time!

Want to keep on practicing? Check our previous editions of “Mixups Unmixed!

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