A Lot or Alot? If You Can’t Remember, It Doesn’t Mean You’re Dumb

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I know this little e-card meme is just supposed to make me laugh. But it bugs me.

The tone exemplifies what I dislike most about grammar snobbishness. Why would anyone be even a little bothered by someone eliminating a space between a and lot?

And that’s what the humor here is supposed to be getting at. This meme says, “We good spellers of the world are sick of all the ignorant, careless spellers out there who think alot is a real word! Ha! Pshaw! Harrumph! Their ignorance is so annoying! But not really. We’re bigger than that. We can laugh at their stupidity with clever memes! You see, for us good spellers, its obvious that a lot is two words. People who can’t remember that are so dumb.”

The thing is, it’s just not so obvious. Not even to normal, intelligent people.

The analogy in the meme is mostly silly. For those who can’t remember whether a lot is one word or two (almost entirely young writers from my experience), the comparison to a little admittedly works pretty well. You wouldn’t write alittle so you shouldn’t write alot. Both words are used as adverbs:

I like ham sandwiches a little, Bob likes them a lot.

But acantaloupe? aporkchop? If those examples are supposed to reveal how ignorant writers of alot are, it doesn’t work. They are nouns with introductory articles, not adverbs. There’s no logical correlation.

Sure, lot can be a noun too: A lot is a plot of land. But nobody confuses alot for a lot in this kind of usage.

Young people confuse them because a lot of adverbs start with a where a could be misunderstood to be an article: again, aboardanew, afresh, aloud, around, askew etc. These words are natural parallels to a lot. We never write a gain, a board, a new or a round. The mistake therefore seems perfectly logical.

The truth is, constructions like a lot, a little, and a few are odd. They function as compound adverbs, but they look like nouns with indefinite articles. They act like single words, and we have lots of adverbs that were formed by mashing compounds into single words: already, altogether, meanwhile, moreover, etc. A lot is quirky and idiomatic and therefore naturally confusing.

I’m not suggesting we should accept alot as an alternative spelling. I’m just saying the confusion is perfectly rational. More rational, in fact, than the dumb analogy in this meme.

I know. It’s only a comical meme. I’m surely taking it too seriously. I just don’t like humor that reinforces the general condescension of grammar snobs.

I have created some revised versions of the meme below. I like these better.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. JanetH
    JanetH07-06-2015

    Just a thought. I see alot pretty often. I don’t ever see abit or alittle. Why? Just frequency of the expression?

    I have a sense that people who write alot are not making typos, but see it as simply correct. As to why, I suppose it could have started with typos, but I’m inclined to guess it was by analogy with the many words that begin uncontroversially with “a”. About, around, allot (!), above and so on. Just a guess….

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko07-06-2015

      Yes, Janet. That’s what I suggest in the article. 🙂

  2. Lori Sutter Smitherman
    Lori Sutter Smitherman06-29-2015

    Guttentag,
    Love all of this. I am a court reporter, and Dressage rider. I have spent quite a bit ( a lot ) of time explaining the English language.
    You have delved far deeper into many a still water.
    Bonjour,
    Lori
    Try explaining Dressage. Have ridden all my half a century on earth, yet, to describe a feeling of
    understanding between you and your horse?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-29-2015

      I certainly wouldn’t be any better than you at explaining Dressage. 🙂

  3. K
    K06-29-2015

    Thank you so much! I am a reasonably intelligent adult, and I have always wondered why this is a difficult thing to keep straight. Now I understand the source of the confusion. Very insightful observations.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-29-2015

      Thank you for your insightful recognition of my insightful observations! 🙂

  4. Lorna
    Lorna06-17-2015

    Your revised versions made me laugh, and I appreciated your analysis of the original. Our kids especially don’t respond well to a condescending attitude when we’re correcting them. A gentle explanation (along with some humor) works much better!

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