Do you dislike it alot?

The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 211, 375 records for ‘a lot’ and 67 for ‘alot’. In the smaller British National Corpus there are 22, 298 records for ‘a lot’ and 44 for ‘alot’. Two questions arise. First, I had supposed ‘alot’ to be mainly an American spelling, and I haven’t encountered it in the UK. However, ‘a lot’ occurs only 500 times more often than ‘alot’ in the BNC, compared with over 3,000 times more often in the COCA. One lesson from this is that our intuitions about language use can be mistaken. Are others as surprised as I was to find the solid printing relatively more frequent in British English than in American English? Second, why is there so much weeping and gnashing of teeth about the solid printing when it is so rare? Do the weepers and gnashers go out of their way to look for it, or do they just happen to read the kind of publications where it occurs? I suppose the same question could be asked about other concerns of the peeververein. It seems to be a manifestation of Caxton’s First Law. (Here’s another. Those who weren’t entirely asleep in high school English lessons like to tell us repeatedly that there’s a difference between your and you’re. Indeed there is, but it’s one that most of us seem to understand. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has, for example, 95 records for ‘You’re right about that’. It has none for ‘Your right about that’.)


Filed under English Language

4 responses to “Do you dislike it alot?

  1. “Alot” is so rare in those corpora partly because they’re composed of edited text. A search in GloWbE shows that “alot” is about 100 times more frequent in unedited text. I think the people who complain most about it are teachers, and it makes sense that they see it far more frequently in student papers than it appears in edited text.

    Also, I want to know why there’s such hatred for “alot” when no one has any problems with “awhile” or “ahold”. If “a lot” must always be treated as an article and a noun, why not the other two?


  2. dw

    “Ahold” is exclusively AmE, as far as I can tell. “Awhile” also strikes me as predominantly AmE.

    Interestingly, the two words are very different in affect (at least to me): “ahold” ultra-colloquial; “awhile” poetic.


    • dw

      Elaborating on my previous point: where AmE has “get ahold of it”, BrE has simply “get hold of it”.

      Counterexamples welcome, of course 🙂


  3. Jonathon. I agree corpora results need interpreting with caution, but those who complain about ‘alot’ never provide us with any data supporting their case. I don’t recall ever seeing the solid form in the UK. I think Caxton’s First Law still holds.

    ‘Awhile’ and ‘ahold’ are not, of course, quite the same. ‘Awhile’ is a fusion of noun and article, but ‘ahold’ is, according to the OED, a fusion of the noun and the preposition ‘a’.

    Dw. I think we might say in BrEng in some contexts something like ‘take ahold of’. The OED has citations for the adverb ‘awhile’ from ‘Beowulf’, Daniel Defoe and Sir Walter Scott, which would seem to give it British credentials.


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