What is the difference between:
- I have plenty of money/friends.
- I have a lot of money/friends.
"Plenty" is more about relative quantity. Regardless of the absolute quantity of friends/money/time/whatever, it's enough for what you need. Whereas "a lot" is a statement about a large absolute quantity without a judgment on the value of that quantity.
Me: I have fifteen dollars to spend on this dinner.
You: Oh, that's plenty. (meaning: more than enough money for what you intend to do with that money)
Me: I have five hundred dollars to spend on this trip.
You: Oh, that's a lot of money. (meaning: that's a large amount of money in absolute terms, but I'm making no statement as to whether it'll be enough for your needs)
In the first sentence, the world
plenty indicates that the amount of money/friends the speaker has is sufficient for some purpose, but doesn't specify whether that amount is generally a large number or not.
In the second sentence, the phrase
a lot indicates that the number is generally high, but not whether it might be enough to meet some goal.
I have plenty of money for a cab, but I don't have a lot of money.
"A lot of..." means a large amount, relatively speaking. "Plenty of..." implies enough of, or more than enough.
The difference between 'plenty of' and 'a lot of' parallels the difference between 'little/few' and 'a little/a few':
the first are what could be called relative quantifiers ('plenty of' means 'more than enough', 'little/few' mean 'less than enough', so they refer to a desirable/needed amount of money, number of friends)
the second, absolute quantifiers (a large or small amount of money, number of friends, without any reference to a desirable/needed quantity)
The use of plenty connotes sufficiency for the author's desires or purposes.
A lot connotes many (friends) and much (money) respectively and indicates the writer may at some point may need some more of the same in life, but not necessarily.
Neither statement denotes that one author has a superior quantity of either over the other. To me, the second also may indicate more of a boastful attitude than the first, to which that still may apply.
I would not see any difference in meaning. The differences explained above are individual interpretations. If there is a difference it is in frequency and in stylistic level. "a lot of/ lots of" is common and frequently used. "plenty of" is a variant, not so frequent and a bit more elevated in style. "plenty" is French/Latin, Latin plenitate(m) meaning fullness derived from the Latin adjective plenus full, plein/e in French.
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