Red Pen Diaries: The Alot Must Be Stopped

ImageDoes anything signal "uneducated" more than the use of "alot?" My father, an attorney, has done more than a few criminal appeals. I've seen some of the letters he receives from his prisoner clients — they pretty much all include "alot."

As you surely know, "a lot" is a great quantity of something; "alot" is ... a town in India.

It's not like "a while" and "awhile," which are understandably confused. A "while" is a noun meaning an increment of time, and since it's a noun, it's preceded by an article, in this case "a." "Awhile," on the other hand, is an adverb essentially meaning "for a while." That's a pretty fine distinction if you ask me.

Even "may be" and "maybe" are related in their uncertainty; and at least they both can boast a lexical legitimacy that "alot" cannot ("may be" is a verb preceded by its "auxiliary"; "maybe" generally serves as an adverb).

No one writes "alittle" or "afew" or for that matter "acat" or "adog," so why does "alot" persist?

Several Web wags think untrained writers render "a lot" as one word because they're conflating "a lot" and "allot." This sounds plausible until you consider that the dullard who writes "alot" is likely unaware of "allot." I write for a living and I don't remember the last time I used the word "allot." I don't even see it in the writing of others very often. Nor can I blame this particular abomination on the insidious incursions of text talk.

And though I may be alone in wondering why it persists (my research has unearthed very little speculation on the subject), I'm not alone in my objection to its persistence.


No one writes "alittle" or "afew," so why does "alot" persist?

"First, you should know that the word alot is NOT a word in the English language. Don't use that word! Ever! It is simply incorrect," says Star, a contributor to the National English Club of China blog. (Never mind that Star deems "alot" "not a word," then insists you not use the word.)

Also consider this, from the (awkwardly named) Learn English Network: "Alot does not exist! There is no such word in the English language. If you write it this way, imagine me shouting at you 'NO SUCH WORD!'" No one enjoys shouting about stuff like this more than I do, but I fear such a corrective won't take in the "alot"-leaning community.

Allie, of the delightful blog Hyperbole and a Half, has gone so far as to develop a coping mechanism, a creature she calls "the alot." Allie is nonetheless too kind because, as you can see in the artist rendering above, her alot is adorable. The REAL "alot" is not.

If you know why people continue to write "alot," This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ideally before it becomes an acceptable variation of "a lot," which at this rate it almost surely will. Maybe, just maybe, if we find out why they do it, we can find a way to make them stop.