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English Lesson 15: Correct Use of A Lot, Alot, and Allot

June 28th, 2008

a-lot-alot-allot.jpgMany people use a lot, alot, or even allot to indicate a large number or quantity of something. In this article, I will attempt to unravel the apparent confusion over which one of these expressions should be used in a particular instance. I will also explain the differences between formal and informal usages regarding these concepts.

To begin with, there is no such word as alot - it is not even in the dictionary, and the few credible online sources that address its usage indicate that it is considered substandard or nonstandard English. Interestingly, I discovered earlier today that there is actually a town in India called Alot (capitalized), but this is a proper noun and has nothing to do with the general concept of “a lot”. Therefore, unless you’re referring to the town, alot should never be used in written English.

Meanwhile, a lot is an informal expression that is commonly used to mean “a large number”, “a large quantity”, or occasionally “often”. It is one of those phrases that is usually acceptable in spoken conversation but should not be used in any type of formal writing or journalism. If you’re writing anything formal or semi-formal, it is better to use the words much, many, or often in place of a lot depending on the context of the sentence. As a general guide, use many if what you are referring to can be counted as separate units, much if it cannot. Use often if you simply mean “frequently”. Here are some examples to illustrate the proper usage:

  1. We import a lot of oil from Saudi Arabia. (informal)
  2. We import much oil from Saudi Arabia. (formal, standard)



  3. We import a lot of barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. (informal, rather awkward)
  4. We import many barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. (standard, much better)



  5. We seem to import oil a lot from Saudi Arabia. (informal)
  6. We seem to import oil often from Saudi Arabia. (standard)

Finally, although the word allot is sometimes used as a misspelling of a lot, it actually means to allocate, apportion, or parcel out. It is always used as a verb. For example:

  1. The market research company chooses to allot five dollars to every member who qualifies and successfully completes its surveys.
  2. The United States Constitution provides that we allot two senators for each state so that they have some measure of equal representation in Congress.

Now we can look at examples of incorrect vs. correct usage:

Incorrect: Do you spend alot of time changing between numerous profiles? — Yahoo Answers question, posted by “Twigs”

Correct: Do you spend a lot of time changing between numerous profiles?

Incorrect: My cat used to do this alot. Its no problem at all. She probably likes you alot. Yahoo Answers response by “lightworker27″

Correct: My cat used to do this often. It is not a problem; she probably likes you very much.

Incorrect: If you alot a certain amount for one thing that you really don’t spend as much on monthly, alot the money to something that you are always falling short on. — Yahoo Answers response by “Dave O”

Correct: If you allot a certain amount for one thing that you really don’t spend as much on monthly, then allot the money to an an item in your budget for which you always seem to have insufficient funds.

Incorrect: I have researched allot of different ways to make money and what I found out is that most of them are scams. — “Making money From Home” page at opportunities4yousite.com

Correct: I have researched many different ways to make money and have found out that most of them are scams.

Quick Summary: Never use alot, use allot for allocations, and use a lot if you are in an informal setting. Otherwise use much, many, or often depending on the context of the sentence.


9 Responses to “English Lesson 15: Correct Use of A Lot, Alot, and Allot”

  1. comment number 1 by: Frequent reader

    Perfect! I grade many high school papers and this is an extremely common mistake. Think I will print this article and post it on my door at school. Terrific post as always.

  2. comment number 2 by: Scott C.

    Thanks! You bailed me out!!! :-)

  3. comment number 3 by: Leonardo

    Hello,

    Thank you for this article, but I have one doubt for the use “a lot”
    At the end of the text I use:

    “kisses a lot for you” or “a lot kisses for you”

    What’s correct?

    Thank you for your help.
    Regards

  4. comment number 4 by: Dan

    I understand the usage of “a lot,” but it runs headlong into another common mistake I often hear and read: “There’s a lot of people.” There ARE!” I always insist. Do people just naturally avoid the clumsy “there’re,” or do they think “a lot,” because it’s preceded by an article, is a quantatative adjective? “There’s a bundle of sticks” is correct, so why not “There’s a lot of cars?” The likely answer is that people don’t think about it at all but just imitate what they hear and read.” I tell my writing students to avoid using “a lot” altogether but, if they do use it, to precede it with “there is” if followed by a collective noun, and “there are” if followed by a plural noun. It’s a losing battle, but I shall slog on! Comments?

  5. comment number 5 by: Karlonia

    @Dan:

    Yes, I agree that most people are not really thinking about their usage of “a lot” and are simply imitating what they hear others say.

    You have begun to touch on another meaning of the word “lot” that I probably should have covered in my original article but apparently did not. Although it has become rather uncommon in American usage, it is possible to use “a lot” in reference to a group or set of something, somewhat similar to your “bundle of sticks” example above.

    In the era before online brokerages became common, and especially before electronic trading systems for stock markets were implemented, we were often encouraged to buy or sell only “round lots” of shares as opposed to “odd lots”. A “round lot” in this case was defined as any multiple of 100 shares. By convention, these quantities were easier for brokers and floor traders to deal with, and therefore the commissions charged to clients were usually lower for round lot trades than they were for odd lot trades. This is why we would almost never hear about anyone buying 99 shares of stock, or only 12 shares, or even 150. Round lots were the rule, although this distinction has become less important with the advent of flat-rate online brokerages where the commissions are generally the same regardless of the size of the trade.

    Meanwhile, in British usage “lot” is often used in reference to a group of people. For example, Nigel Farage might say, “I think that Britain should just leave the EU, but I don’t know about you lot.” Another British person, referring to corrupt politicians in Parliament, might say, “We should just remove the whole bloody lot of them.” In this sense, the word “lot” refers to a known group of people, not just “many people” in general. So theoretically it is possible to say “there is a lot of people” and still be correct, but I suspect that most Americans do not intend to use this particular meaning of “lot” and may not even be aware of it.

    Your method of distinguishing between collective and plural nouns is probably the best way to deal with the issue for general writing purposes. In written documents I avoid using “a lot” whenever possible except in those rare cases where I need to refer to a pre-defined quantity of something, for example “a lot of 100 shares”.

  6. comment number 6 by: Dan

    Thank you for the illumination. It is precisely this old (by American standards, anyway) usage that got me thinking in the first place and prompted me to post my comments. Regardless of British usage, in modern American parlance, “a lot”, when used as quantity, is synonymous with “much” and “many” and ought to follow the same rules, particularly when preceded by “there is” and “there are” and their contractions. But maybe this is just “Many Ado’s About Nothing!” Now, what do you have to say about the replacement of “number of” by “amount of” in current American speech and writing? I see this steadily creeping into common usage. “A great amount of people,” for instance. It is a problem similar to the usage of “a lot.” I tell my students to reserve “amount of” for collective nouns (You’d never say ‘a number of oil’ would you?), and “number of” for nouns that have a natural plural form - for their benefit, I call them “countable nouns.” The trouble is, I’m not sure I’m absolutely correct on this, particularly on the “amount of” side! Comments?

  7. comment number 7 by: Karlonia

    Yes, the amount vs. number issue is another one where incorrect usage seems to have become more common. Your understanding of it is essentially correct, at least according to the rules that I learned and have always followed. “Amount of” is used for collective nouns and “number of” is used for nouns that can be counted and are being expressed as something that represents individual units.

    This last part can be tricky in some cases. For example, “money” can be counted, but in order to do so we must break it down into dollars, euros, etc. and count those. So while we would say “number of dollars” because dollars are individual units, we say “amount of money” because “money” is not being expressed in terms of individual units and is therefore considered a collective noun in this sense.

    The same principle applies with “people”. People are individual units and can be counted as such without having to be broken down into anything else. So we would say “number of people”, not “amount of people”. It is easy to get confused on this one because so many examples of incorrect usage exist, even in mainstream media outlets and well-established Internet venues. For example, financial news columns will discuss the topic of unemployment and mention that the “amount of workers” entering the labor force has fallen over the past year. Of course it should be “number of workers”!

    Another similar issue, and one that I have on my list for future posts, is the less vs. fewer distinction. The same rules that apply for amount vs. number apply here as well. So we would say “fewer people” but “less money”, “less oil” but “fewer barrels of oil”, etc. But many established bloggers out there continue to say “less people” and use “less” for everything else too, apparently oblivious to the correct usage or even the fact that the word “fewer” exists.

  8. comment number 8 by: Dan

    Wow! You’re amazing! I think I’ve finally found someone who both respnds AND provides thoughtful, reliable answers. Thank you. I think a post about less vs. fewer is a good idea. When you get around to it, you might consider a section on the distinction between “few” and “a few,” “Few of the children were dressed for the harsh weather” as opposed to “A few of the children were dressed for the harsh weather.” It’s not that I hear or see errors in this regard, but that the elegance of “few” as a modifier has largely been lost. Most people will opt for “not too many of” instead of “few.” On the collective noun side, few people will say “Little snow remains in the passes,” i.e. “not too much,” but “a little” is common as in “some” or “a small amount of.” Encourage “few” and “little,” I say! Thanks again for the insight.

  9. comment number 9 by: J. Young

    I was taught that when we are talking about multiples, we use the work “many”, as in, “There were many options to travel to New York.” A lot is a place to park cars, or a group of items being auctioned. I know that in informal speech, it is common to hear “a lot” used to describe a large number of items. In formal writing or in journalism, “many” should be used instead of “a lot” when referring to a large number.

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