Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you know how to emphasize in English when there is a large number of something?

Today we’ll show you a special trick to make your English more interesting and get your point across when a number is shockingly high.

We’ll start today with a role play:

Michelle: Hi Lindsay. Are you ever surprised by the sheer number of people who ride the subway in NYC when you visit?

Lindsay: Sometimes I’m still so shocked how many people can fit on the train. So crowded.

In this conversation why did Michelle use the word “sheer”?

She wanted to emphasize that she is talking about a huge number of people who ride the subway in NYC.

We’ll show you how to do this today.

Today’s episode was inspired by a listener question:

Hello, everyone!

I am an enthusiastic listener. This show stimulates my curiosity, sometimes my stomach and everything!! Thank you for your hard work.

By the way I came across some words, sheer number of, a large number of, tons of, …

When I want to use the sentence: I saw (sheer number of ) buffaloes were coming head for me when I was traveling Wyoming with my family. There are lots of different kinds in English. Could you tell me which one is the best to use?  (It’s not fake news. It’s real. We were in a car so we were safe, though. )

Thank you in advance.

Ayako Kaneko


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Sheer number of:

When you say this sentence, “I saw (sheer number of ) buffaloes were coming head for me when I was traveling Wyoming with my family.”

You are emphasizing the large number of buffaloes. However we almost always use “the sheer number of…”

Another example: The sheer number of birds coming my way was enough to scare me!

Also, this is a bit more formal.

Another example: We need more supplies due to the sheer number of people who RSVP’d ‘yes’ to the conference. Here you could also use, “the large number of.


Large number of:

With this expression you can use THE or A or just X article.

Example: I saw a large number of birds on my trip.

Example: I saw so many birds on the trip. The large number of birds kind of freaked me out.

Example: Large numbers of birds flew around the area when I was there.

Also, this is a bit more formal


A ton of:

This one is way more casual.

Example: I saw tons of/a ton of birds on the trip! It was crazy!


Other ways to emphasize large numbers:

  • A surprising number/amount
    • Example: A surprising number of guests brought gifts to the party.
  • A plethora of-this means that something is excessive.
    • Example: We have a plethora of fancy dresses in all our stores.


Don’t just say that there is a lot of something. Make your English more interesting and use words like “sheer” or “a ton of.”

Choose the right words based on how casual or formal the situation is.

Most importantly, always try to focus on connection!

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