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A lot vs. alot

Though common in informal communication, alot has never made its way into edited writing, and it’s generally considered a misspelling. In any type of serious writing, the two word spelling, a lot, is the safer choice. Even correctly spelled, however, the imprecise term has a colloquial ring, and it might sound out of place in, say, a school paper or an email to a client.  

A lot is like any two-word phrase with the indefinite article (a) followed by a noun (lot). For instance, a cowa cloud, and a burrito are similarly constructed phrases, but no one would write these acowacloud, and aburrito. Why a lot is so often compounded into alot is an interesting linguistic mystery. It may have something to do with the existence of the unrelated adjective allot, or it could be because lot in this sense is not common outside this phrase (though the plural, lots, is also common in a nearly identical use).

The ngram below graphs the use of a lot and alot in a large number of texts published between 1900 and 2000. As you can see, alot (the red line) does not even register against a lot, suggesting that the one-word form does not pass through the editorial process.

A lot vs. alot 1900-2000

Examples

For the head of a multibillion-dollar hedge fund, James G. Dinan worries a lot about the fate of the industry’s littlest players. [New York Times]

There is a lot of Berlin to discover. [Guardian]

That’s been happening a lot lately in eastern Montgomery County. [Washington Post]

It’s a lot easier to see in person – unfortunately, all the hydrocarbon haze from the conifers round here plays havoc with the camera. [Scientific American]

Amazon has a lot to prove to justify its surging stock price [Globe and Mail]

That’s a lot of journalist jobs. [New Zealand Herald]

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Comments

  1. Talk2nguyen says:

    thx alot

  2. Thanks, this was helpful. :)

  3. “A lot” is where you park your car.

  4. Velvet Android says:

    I’ve always assumed there must be some (subliminal, if nothing else) confusion with “allot”, i.e. to divide or distribute by portion…?

  5. A builder with 6 contracts to build downtown parking lots texts his workers in the morning: “We need to get a lot done today.” Later that day, he finds all of his workers still at the first job site sitting around and asks “What happened!?! We have 5 more jobs to finish! They reply “We finished one of the lots just like you said! Paycheck please.”

  6. ɔkyeame says:

    I think it’s because while people generally know the nouns cow, cloud and burrito, people aren’t as familiar with the noun lot outside of its use in “parking lot” in American English. British English seems to have lot freestanding alot [sic] more.

  7. ɔkyeame says:

    “Why a lot is so often compounded into alot is an interesting linguistic mystery” It’s due to what functional linguists refer to as the process of grammaticalization. In this case what was an indefinite article becomes a bound morpheme (affix). The reason why this happens for alot and not for acow, acloud and aburrito is because lot is not recognized by speakers as a freestanding noun therefore the two words are reanalyzed as a single opaque chunk.

    • No, it’s because people are dumb.

      • EdgyLefty says:

        All considered, your smart a– remark was kind of dumb. Thanks a lot anyway though. :-)

      • I’ll bet I am older than you.(not trying to start anything,just said
        to make a point.) I was taught in school by a teacher with a masters
        degree in elementary education the spelling- alot instead of a lot.Here
        are two examples of how we were taught- I have 500 pennies, that’s alot.
        Next door to me there is a lot where a house once existed until a
        tornado destroyed it. I have been using this spelling all my
        life, even in college. only the past 15 yrs have I been perplexed about
        the spelling. Am I right or wrong? only since “the internet” have I been
        confused on this but I’d really like to know the correct spelling.

        • dosssva says:

          So would the antonym of alot be alittle?

        • Mary Dorsey says:

          I’m almost 38, I was also taught that there was alot and a lot. My teacher in elementary school had been a veteran teacher. In college, it was acceptable to use alot on my papers.

        • I have the reason but you might scoff… It’s a “glitch in the matrix”. Seriously, alot, or a lot….depending on where you’re ‘from’…of people have had this happen in the past 10 years. See : Mandela effect, Berenstein vs Berenstain bears, jiffy peanut butter, no Henry VIII turkey leg painting. Smaller things such as spelling of alot are just another. Easy to say we’re wrong and dumb, but those of us who were taught “alot” or picked over the pronunciation of “Berenstein” as children can’t shrug it off so readily.

        • Hammer,
          We must be about the same age because when I was in elementary school I was taught the same thing. I’ve noticed, in the last few years, that some people think the only correct way is ” a lot”. Also I love the people who don’t know the difference in the different forms of “to, too and two” or “there and their”. After working in classrooms (not as a teacher) I’ve noticed that English is not taught. I was experiencing brain fog one day and asked an English teacher if she could clarify a dangling participle for me. She informed me she never heard of such a thing.

        • Jared DeHart says:

          I was taught the same way. I’m 30 btw.
          More or less this is how I was told to understand it.

          Alot – a value or measure
          A lot – a piece of land

          Correct or incorrect, I’m going to keep using “alot”.

        • Brian Christopher Southers says:

          I was taught the same and I was in the 2005 graduating class. I’m not sure what grade I was in when I was taught that alot- is a quantity vs. A lot being a place (such as a parking lot). I’ve been using it in this form all my life as well, having never been corrected.

  8. Tyler Richardson says:

    Alot is accepted in googledoc’s spell check whereas a lot is marked as wrong.

  9. Just like “a cow”, “a lot” is like a random lot somewhere. It sounds and feels weird to write and say ‘a lot’ for me because mental meaning of alot is many, where a lot is more of a space rather than many. I think it is time to stop headfucking ourselfs and let the natural way be the correct way. Evolve the word “a lot” into alot and let both be considered correct. Why fight the natural urge to say and write alot?

    • Essentially, then, your point is that you’re illiterate.

    • Grammar Cop says:

      It’s not a natural urge to say “alot,” any more than it’s a natural urge to say “astupid.” While English is, was and always will be a dynamic language, there are certain rules and conventions of grammar, spelling and punctuation that are necessary for effective communication. Just because some people think “incidence” means the same thing as “incidents” doesn’t cause it to mean the same thing; it just exposes people who are making ignorant mistakes. English, though always evolving, is also always static with respect to critical aspects of the language; otherwise, there would be chaos, and no one would understand what anyone else was saying. “A lot” is two words. Get used to it and don’t rationalize your errors with specious justification.

  10. What about – drunk whores? My ex-wife is a drunk whore and I want to make sure that I get it right when we meet in court and I tell the judge – “She is a drunk whore!”

    • Sally Higginbotham says:

      I’m sure your ex-wife can be a lot of fun, under the right circumstances. Alot, by the way, gets a squiggly red line under it when I type it. This tells us a lot about spelling – I don’t think it’s a reflection on your ex

  11. “A lot” is a measurement: “There are 20 containers in a lot.” “Alot” is an indefinite number: “He likes her alot.” Note that “a lot” is an article and a noun, while “alot” is an adverb.

    • dosssva says:

      So alittle?

      • No, because little is not a precise measurement. If one were to say “a lot,” a valid question would be, “how many pieces in the lot?” But that is not a valid question for “little.”

        • dosssva says:

          You should look up the definitions of lot.

          • Definitions change over time. New words are added based on acceptable use. This thread is discussing the (as TMac correctly points out) non-word “alot” versus the real word “lot.” I do know the currently published definitions, but I also know how the non-word “alot” has been used for over 50 years and am arguing its definition.

          • dosssva says:

            Still your explanation of lot is lacking. Lot is also an imprecise measurement. I’m not arguing the validity of alot. It is a non word. Every entry I came across says this. However, as you say words can have different meanings although spelled the same. Bear for example. Open a book.

          • dosssva says:

            Whatever helps you sleep at night. Confirmation bias is a terrible drug. I don’t care how long it’s been in use. It ‘aint’ right. ‘Axe’ anybody.

  12. Tyler McIntyre says:

    Alot is not a word in the English language. It is slang that has slowly been accepted over time. It does not make it correct, it is simply tolerated/accepted by the people who use it ignorantly. A lot is the only true spelling and used for both defining an amount AND when talking about where you park a car. Just because five people disagree with a fact does not now make the fact false, you simply have five ignorant people. A lot is spelled the same way to define different things because the English language has whats known as (1)homonyms. If alot is a word, and there is defining difference between alot and a lot, then wouldn’t there also be a defining difference between cancelled and canceled? What people are stating is the different ways alot is used in a sentence, properly. The irony here is these people are arguing about the proper way to use a word that is not a word at all. In the English language, there is “A LOT”(with a space!), and “ALLOT”. (2)(homophones) “alot” is only a typo, nothing more.

    (1)Homonym(s): word(s) that are spelled and sound the same but have different meanings.
    Example: I am going to park my car in a lot, rather than on the street. I have heard a lot of bad things about that restaurant. I received a lot of presents for my birthday.
    (2) Homophone(s) Words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.
    Example: I drove to their home last night, but no one was there.

  13. Cat Lover says:

    I am 46 years old and I DID learn alot IS in fact a word and this was the 3 ways we had to remember them… a lot, alot and allot. I am not the only person in America in their 40’s that was taught this in grade school.

  14. “unrelated adjective allot”

    Isn’t “allot” a verb?

  15. L. E. Alba says:

    I’m very proactive about the contracted “alot”. I flatly reject “a lot”.
    It just makes for good conceptual semantics. Whereas “alot” flows together as grammar and in structural linguitics.

  16. “Alot” is a verb synonymous with parceling out a quantity of something for a particular use:
    “We will alot five oranges to you as part of your weekly rations.”
    That is the only correct useage of the word, as near as I can tell — but I’m just a dumb engineer without a liberal arts degree…

  17. OK Marjorie, a lot of parking spaces is still not a parking lot.

  18. The door is a jar. No, it’s a door.

  19. Writers for a site called Grammarist should know that “allot” is a verb, not an adjective.

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