Most of us use the phrase “a lot” frequently when referring to time or a large quantity or amount. But, some mistake the expression for a single word, writing “alot,” which is incorrect.
“A lot” is a two-word phrase, and you should always spell it as such. “A lot” spelled as a single word (alot) is incorrect. You may use it as a noun phrase or an adverbial phrase. “A” is an indefinite article, and “lot” is a noun – taken together, these two words can mean a large quantity, to a large extent, or that something occurs frequently.
Continue reading to learn more about this phrase and how and when to use it correctly in your writing.
What Does “A Lot” Mean?
The phrase “a lot” refers to a large number or amount of something, whether that is time, things, people, or something else (source). Something that you would refer to as “very much” or “many” you could also refer to as “a lot.”
While you may see “a lot” spelled as one word, remember that this is incorrect.
The single noun “lot” can refer to a large amount or number of people or things, very much or many of something, or it can refer to a set or group of something or “everything” (source).
When you use the indefinite article “a” in front of “lot,” you are introducing a noun (or noun phrase) that is not specific.
The only indefinite articles in English are “a” and “an,” and you’ll use them as stand-alone words before a noun when you want to refer to something general, such as “a lot” of something.
The definite article “the” is a bit different in that it refers to something specific, so you can use it with “lot,” but when doing so, be sure that you are referring to a particular identification of something.
Below are two examples illustrating the difference between “the” and “a” when you use it with the noun “lot.”
- “I have a lot to do tonight.”
Above, we use “a lot” to show that there is a large quantity of something the speaker will need to do, but we don’t know what it is or how much specifically.
- “I’ll take the entire lot of tomatoes, please.”
Here, we’re using the definite article “the” because we want to communicate that we’d like the entire group (a large quantity) of something specific: tomatoes.
Note that when you use “the” with “lot,” you’ll most likely want to use another descriptive adjective like “whole” to show that you are speaking of a group of items.
Is it Grammatically Correct to Say “A lot”?
It is grammatically correct to say “a lot” when referring to a large quantity of something, so long as you spell it properly in two separate words. You can use the phrase as either an adverb or a noun phrase.
An adverb is a word that modifies an adjective, verb, or another adverb, while a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea.
If you use “a lot” as part of an adverb phrase, that means you are describing how, in what way, when, or to what extent something happens. For example, we might say, “Thanks a lot for helping me carry my groceries to the car.”
In this sense, “a lot” modifies the verb “thanks” and shows that we are offering not just a simple “thank you” but want to show the great extent of our gratitude.
You may also say, “I have a lot of shoes in my closet.” Here, “a lot” is a noun phrase because you show that you have a large quantity of an item: shoes.
How Do You Use “A Lot”?
You can use “a lot” to show that you have a lot of something or something to a large extent, or you can use it to show that you or someone else does something frequently. Remember that spelling it as one word is a misspelling of the phrase.
We can use the phrase as either part of a noun or an adverbial phrase. Both ways are correct, so which you use depends on the construction of your sentence and what you are communicating.
For example, you might say, “I go running a lot in the spring and summer.” Here, you’re using the phrase as part of an adverb phrase because you are showing how often something occurs (frequently or often).
It matters less that you know exactly the part of speech you are using “a lot” as and more that you use (and spell) it correctly. If you can identify what you are using “a lot” to modify, it’ll be easy to determine if it is a noun or an adverb.
Here’s another example where “a lot” modifies an adjective (and therefore is part of an adverbial phrase):
- Her haircut was a lot shorter than I expected!
Above, “a lot shorter” is an adverb phrase because “a lot” modifies the word that follows, “shorter,” which is an adjective or describing word.
When Can You Use “A Lot”?
You can use “a lot” any time you want to show a large quantity or amount of something, whether you use it as a noun or an adverb. It is not a formal phrase, however, so remember that if you are writing for a formal context, you may want to choose a synonymous term that has a more formal connotation.
Again, “a lot” is a two-word phrase that means very often or very much. When you use the indefinite article “a” before “lot,” you refer to a singular idea. Conversely, you may also see the phrase “lots of.” This is simply the plural form of this common phrase.
So, both of the below sentences are correct:
- I have a lot of homework today.
- I have lots of homework today.
The initial sentence is singular, while the second is plural.
In the first sentence, “a” shows a large quantity of a single item: homework. In the second sentence, rather than using the indefinite article, we instead pluralized the word “lot,” writing “lots” to show that the speaker has many assignments in various homework subjects.
In What Context Can You Use “A Lot”
You can use “a lot” in quite a few contexts, but remember that it is not a formal phrase. You’ll often hear this phrase in casual conversation and informal writing, such as emails or text messages.
Later in this article, we’ll provide some ideas and examples of other phrases you can use instead of “a lot” if you wish to be more formal in tone.
While it can sometimes be challenging to know if you are using the phrase as an adverb or a noun, you can determine which one by identifying what you are pairing the phrase with.
Often, if you pair it with another noun, you will make a noun phrase. However, if the meaning is more in line with showing that something happens frequently, you are likely using it as an adverb.
Some everyday contexts in which you’ll hear the phrase are when you want to offer thanks or gratitude, such as “Thanks a lot,” or when you want to express that you or someone else has “a lot” of something.
When Not to Use “A Lot”
You should avoid using “a lot” in formal writing and contexts. Further, you should never spell it as a single word – that is always incorrect.
Because the phrase is common and colloquial, it’s not appropriate in formal contexts. And, because the term is an indefinite quantifier, you should opt for more specific quantifiers in formal writing and scientific contexts.
For example, you wouldn’t want to explain a scientific process or directions in a recipe using the word “a lot” since you’ll need specific amounts in these situations.
You should also avoid the phrase if you are using it too much. Sometimes, we use common terms in our writing and tend to default to those same phrases repeatedly.
If you are overusing the phrase, you may exchange it for a synonym that matches the formality of the context.
Before we go over synonyms for the phrase “a lot,” let’s look at one illustration of the difference in formality:
- The building project needed a lot of work before it would be safe.
- The building project required an excessive amount of work before it would be safe.
While both sentences are technically and grammatically correct, the latter has a more formal connotation than the former.
What Can You Use Instead of “A Lot”?
There are quite a few synonymous words and phrases that you can use in place of “a lot,” some of which are formal and others that are less formal. Some examples include “excessive,” “enormously,” or “abundantly.”
Below you’ll see a list of common synonyms for “a lot” (source).
Meaning: a large quantity or number
- A whole heap
- A good deal
- A large amount
Meaning: occurring often or a great deal
Below you’ll find more formal synonyms for “a lot”:
- Excessive or Excessively
- Copious/A copious amount
Using “A Lot” in a Full Sentence
As we’ve discussed, there are a few ways you can use the phrase “a lot” in a complete sentence, as long as you use it correctly as a two-word phrase.
Below you’ll find a few examples using “a lot” as part of a noun phrase:
- I have a lot of work to do after school today.
- She owns a lot of purses – too many to count!
- The little girl likes a lot of sprinkles on her ice cream.
Here are sentences using “a lot” as an adverb phrase:
- I am experiencing a lot of nervous energy right now.
- I’ve been thinking a lot about what she said, but I still disagree.
- She goes running a lot, so my knee often hurts.
“Allot” Versus “A Lot”
One other word you may want to be aware of is the similar-sounding single word “allot,” which is very different from the phrase “a lot.” While the word sounds the same, it refers to dividing something into portions, whether that is time, money, or some other specific thing.
Here’s an example: “I’m going to allot a portion of my free time to painting, and then I’ll finish my chores.”
We use “allot” as a verb rather than a noun or adverb like the phrase “a lot.”
So, if you hear “allot,” you will need to listen to the context closely to understand its correct meaning, whether a large quantity or the action of dividing something into portions.
Adverb Phrases, Common Phrases, and Idioms
Phrases are an essential part of English conversation and writing. Some are adverb phrases, others are idioms, and some are simply ones that you may hear or use commonly.
Remember, an adverb phrase is simply a group of words functioning as an adverb, and an adverb is a word that modifies the words around it to describe how, when, or what is happening. Adverbs also often answer specific questions, including who, what, where, why, or to what extent.
The only distinction between a traditional adverb and an adverbial phrase is that the former is a single word, while the latter is more than one word. This is why we classify “a lot” as an adverb phrase.
“A lot” is a prevalent phrase you will frequently hear and use in English to explain something that often occurs or as a noun, referring to a large quantity of something.
You’ll also sometimes hear “a lot” within common idioms. Idioms are phrases with different meanings you cannot necessarily deduce from the individual words.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com
A typical example of an idiom with the phrase “a lot” is when someone says, “I have a lot on my plate today.”
They are not saying that they have a lot of food on their plate, but rather their day is so busy that they cannot fit any more events into their schedule.
If you’d like to learn more about common two-word phrases often misspelled, read At Least or Atleast: Is It One Word or Two?
Some words in English sound the same, but we spell them differently. Thus, knowing when a compound word is one word or two can be challenging to remember.
You can confidently remember that “a lot” is always two words, whether you use it in a noun phrase or as an adverb.
You should never spell it as one word – unless, that is, you are using the word “allot,” which has a different meaning altogether.