I am confused over the use of lots of vs lot of.

I am phrasing a sentence having the following clause :

[Article] [lot-of/lots-of] [noun singular/plural] [verb] ...

As an example :

A lot of mail keeps arriving.

Ignoring the structuring of the sentence for the moment, what are the rules for matching up the article, noun and verb when using either lot of or lots of?


I could be wrong, but I am not sure if there is a rule, per se, could be named. But I think the simple matter of number agreement is applicable here. That is, plural nouns should be matched with plural articles.

It is simply this: "lots" is plural; "lot" is singular. So, whenever you use "lots" you do not use the indefinite article because it is always singular. "lot" is inherently singular, and must take the indefinite article. And the form of the verb must also agree as to number.

Correct (pairs with identical meanings):

  • Lots of mail keeps arriving.
  • A lot of mail keeps arriving.
  • There are lots of ways to skin a cat.
  • There is a lot of ways to skin a cat.
  • A fat lot of good it did me!
  • Lots of good it did me!

Note carefully that the latter two examples are both negatory, using sarcasm to convey: I didn't get a lot of good out of it! Oddly enough, if I took the last one and said "It did me a lot of good" unless your tone of voice suggested otherwise (or the context suggested otherwise) it would be taken to me that it did indeed do you a lot of good. But that's a digression, sorry.

Lots of lots!

The word "lot" in the context of your question means a non-definite grouping or number of something or other. There might be only one or there might be multiple such groupings. It's a wonderfully vague term, which means it has great utility. There is however a couple of more restrictive ways to use it.

One is a specific bounded amount of land, which is a "lot". Sometimes combined with other words to indicate the use of the lot, e.g. "feedlot", a piece of land whereon cattle are fed. In this sense of the word, if I said "I have lots of land" it would be a double entendre -- it would have a double meaning.

Another sense of lot is the outcome of a chance event. "To throw lots" means to toss dice or a coin to allow chance to choose an outcome. "It is your lot to be a poor man" means that fate or circumstance has determined that your condition in life is to be poor. The word "lottery" comes from this root meaning.

  • As we know, British English and American English differ in some cases of plural pairing (ie, BE: the group were, while in AE the group was). As an AE speaker, I would say There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. I think that's true of other Yanks. Also, of interest, to me anyway, is they way Brits say "you lot" when we'd say, I guess, "you guys."
    – sarah
    Jul 8 '13 at 1:38
  • Having lived for a few years in England (Gloucestershire), I am familiar with the differences in plural pairing (subject-verb agreement). But I was never reconciled to saying things like "Parliament are" because to me "Parliament" is a singular noun, full-stop. Heh. But even after 40 years away from the UK, I still cannot bring myself to pronounce "Headmaster" in the American manner, with a short "a" in "master". Fortunately, here I am not called upon to use the word. Jul 8 '13 at 16:44
  • @sarah I'm a Brit, and I think I would say "the group was" and "Parliament is", but it may vary in context as to whether I were referring to the group as a unit or (implicitly) to the individuals within the group.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 10 '13 at 13:51

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