A question from Manuel from Spain:
I'm learning English by myself, and my question is: What is the difference between a lot, a lot of and lots of, and when do I have to use them?
Susan Fearn answers:
So, Manuel, a learner of English from Spain, wants to know the difference between a lot of, lots of and quite simply, a lot. The first point to make here is that English can be more or less formal and lots of is just a more conversational form of a lot of. So you could say or write:
There are a lot of people over there
Or you could say:
There are lots of people over there
The last one's chattier - it's less formal. And that's an easy way to remember it, I think.
Grammatically speaking, a lot of or lots of is used before a noun,
There are a lot of people
or what we call a 'noun phrase' - a group of words that serves as a noun. Now, can you spot the noun phrase in this sentence?
There are a lot of Spanish people living in London
And the noun phrase is, Spanish people living in London: There are a lot of Spanish people living in London.
A lot, or for that matter, lots without of, is used in answers. If the question is, 'Are there many Spanish people living in London?' the answer will be:
Yes, a lot
Or if you want to sound chattier, more conversational:
Things do, however, get a bit more complicated in the question and the negative. If a noun is countable, in a negative or question, we normally use many instead of a lot.
Are there many British tourists in Spain?
There aren't many Spanish tourists in Outer Mongolia
But if a noun is uncountable - that's a mass noun like food or money or love - we use much.
I haven't got much money
Is there much food in the fridge?
To finish then, another quick test. Which of these three sentences is grammatically okay?
a) I haven't got much money, but I've got much love
b) I've got much money but I haven't got much love
c) I haven't got much money but I've got a lot of love
And the answer is c) I haven't got much money but I've got a lot of love. So if you got that, well done!
Susan Fearn has taught English in Europe, Japan and China and has made programmes for BBC Learning English in the past. She is currently teaching English for Journalism and Public Relations at the University of Westminster in London.
Audio - Download the answer (mp3 - 0.9 mb)
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