FROM TODAY’S SEATTLE TIMES (November 10, 2013, page A7) the headline reads, “Venezuelans amass for bargains at seized stores.” This jumped out at me for the odd use of “amass” in this context. As a transitive verb, the primary definition of amass is “to collect for oneself : accumulate.” But its secondary meaning is “to collect into a mass; gather.”
As an intransitive verb, the definition of amass is “to come together; assemble.” (Merriam-Webster Online)
So its use in the headline above is correct, if awkward. For most modern American readers, the word that should go there is mass. As an intransitive verb, mass means “to assemble in a mass.”
Of course, now we must look up mass as a noun, where it has several meanings (especially if you are Roman Catholic). But the definition operable for us is “a large body of persons in a group.” (Merriam-Webster Online)
So, both amass and mass are proper usage, but the one is awkward and highly out of the ordinary in conversational speech and standard writing.
So, for us ‘normals,’ a better headline would have been “Venezuelans mass for bargains at seized stores.”
William Strunk Jr’s original edition of The Elements Of Style (1919) was all of fifty-three pages long. In 1959, it was revised and expanded by one of his students, the famous children’s book author E.B. White. It is one of the best selling and most influential grammar and punctuation books ever published. I have used the authors’ names for one of the categories of this site: Strunkandwhiten It! For more information, refer to “On William Strunk and Elements of Style.”