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Maybe there’s no really well-defined answer, but I’m wondering which phrase is the more significant (meaning bigger) between these two:

  • We’ve been doing a lot of work.
  • We’ve been doing a ton of work.

And even maybe including this one:

  • We’ve been doing tons of work.
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You answered your own question in your first sentence. –  MετάEd Dec 8 '12 at 18:52
    
I just wanted to make sure, you know. –  Dmitry Frank Dec 8 '12 at 20:21
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A ton is definitely bigger than a lot –  Paolo Falabella Dec 8 '12 at 21:57
    
@Paolo Falabella: I disagree - a car that only weighs a ton is nothing to write home about. But if that's a lot of car in the driveway it probably weighs much more. Anyway, I'm voting to close because it's subjective and Not Constructive (where, for example, would shedloads of work fit on this hypothetical "scale"?). Or shitloads, come to that? –  FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 5:50
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

They are interchangeable and used as intensifiers. The emphasis is in the tone. There is no precise quantification intended or even possible in such a statement.

Note that you would say

We've been doing tons of work.

Not "a tons of work."

Cf. ass ton, shit load, shit ton, etc.

The only way you could establish a ton to mean more than a lot would be to use it in sequence:

Me: Been working hard lately?

You: Yeah, been doing a lot of work.

Me: Really? You seem like you have plenty of time for video games.

You: Dude, I've been doing a ton of work.

But you could easily reverse the two in that exchange and achieve the same effect.

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Of course I understand there's no precise quantification, but, as I understood, "a ton" is usually more significant than "a lot". By the way, thanks for correcting me about "a tons", I fixed that in my question. –  Dmitry Frank Dec 8 '12 at 16:20
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There is no metric that makes "a ton" more than "a lot" — both descriptors are essentially meaningless intensifiers. –  Robusto Dec 8 '12 at 16:23
    
See my addition. –  Robusto Dec 8 '12 at 16:30
    
Ok, I'm convinced. –  Dmitry Frank Dec 8 '12 at 16:54
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@Robusto, although a "metric shitload" would be largest ;-) –  mgb Dec 9 '12 at 3:58
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I would use "a ton" over "a lot" to infer a greater quantity or degree of something because, in my mind, a ton is a quantifiably large mass where a "a lot" is very subjective.

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+1, yes, I agree. absolutely compelling evidence, or, more precisely, there is a ton of evidence on that, but none of it stands up to rigorous indicate what subjective is. –  user19148 Dec 8 '12 at 17:20
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Rubbish. As @Robusto says, both descriptors are essentially meaningless intensifiers. You can have loads of work (or shedloads, shitloads, stacks, whatever). But it's totally pointless to "rank" them. –  FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 5:58
    
Which is more, a kilo or a lot? Which is less, a bit or a gram? –  Hugo Dec 9 '12 at 6:29
    
@FumbleFingers, it's the perception that a ton is more than a lot that's at play here, certainly not anything quantifiable. My answer is based on how I personally use and rank those two intensifiers. –  Kristina Lopez Dec 9 '12 at 10:58
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@FumbleFingers, The "rubbish!" made me laugh, so no worries. I welcome any opportunity to delve into the nuances of English language usage. :-) –  Kristina Lopez Dec 9 '12 at 15:05
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