Is "of" in "a lot of time" a preposition?

I am working on a task about the identification of prepositions and their objects. I am not sure about "a lot of", and for some reason it seems unbreakable.

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    Originally 'a lot of' simply meant 'a share of'. Nowadays it means 'a large amount of'. As far as I know 'of' is always a preposition. – chasly from UK Nov 4 '15 at 0:27
  • @chasly from UK: I can't think of any counterexamples off the top of my head, so you could be quite right. But the idea that a word (especially a word that can be used as a preposition) can only be a single part of speech (ever) is grating. Food for thought for me, to be sure! – Nonnal Nov 4 '15 at 2:56
  • @chaslyfromUK - Certainly "lots" has come to mean a large amount. – Hot Licks Nov 4 '15 at 3:16
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    You produced 3 lots of 14 screws in 30 minutes. – Drew Jan 4 '16 at 1:01
  • A lot of people have a lot of ideas about the syntax of the phase "a lot of". What is the subject here? A prepositional phrase gerund? – Shane Nov 14 '16 at 18:46

Let's take a simple sentence:

I have a lot of time.

There are two options:

  • Either (a lot of) is unbreakable, which would presumably make it a multi-word preposition, or
  • It divides into (a lot) [noun phrase] and (of time) [prepositional phrase].

The direct object of the transitive verb have is either "lot" or "time." If I say, "I have (a lot of) (time)," then time is the direct object, and (a lot of) is....an adjective? Certainly not an unbreakable preposition.

By contrast, If I say, "I have (a lot) (of time)," then the direct object is "lot," and "of time" modifies lot by describing what kind of lot it is. So (of time) becomes an adjectival prepositional phrase. That makes more sense.

Thus, "of" in this sentence is a preposition, and "time" is its object.

As an aside, I tried searching for lists of multi-word prepositions that include "a lot of" but came up empty. If anyone else can find something, I'm all ears.

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  • So, is there any functional reason to ever regard it as a multi-word preposition? – Hot Licks Nov 4 '15 at 3:14
  • @Hot Licks: Not that I can think of. But I wanted to leave the door open for people smarter than I am to identify something that I had missed. :-) – Nonnal Nov 4 '15 at 3:20
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    Hmmm, that's not quite correct. If it's one lexical item then it would be a multi-word determiner not a preposition. You van find many instances of multi-word determiners, if you look for them a few, a little and so forth ... :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 4 '15 at 14:48
  • Great point, @Araucaria. So the question becomes, is "a lot of" a multi-word determiner, or a noun phrase followed by a prepositional phrase? – Nonnal Nov 4 '15 at 16:00
  • Breaking the structure into "a lot" as a noun phrase and "of time" as a prepositional phrase sounds very plausible, especially if I consider the nominal properties of the word "lot", namely, the 's' that it gets when pluralized and the modifiers it takes like any other noun in a noun pharse (a whole lot, 20 lots...) – Nel Nov 4 '15 at 23:24

Well its followed by a noun, like a sack of potatoes a sack of is like a determiner In the old days a lot was a given quantity that has morphed into use as many I guess, I picked up a sack of potatoes by which we mean a sack containing potatoes but it could have been a sack of corn so the sack is the noun and of potatoes describes the contents Answer is of a preposition in this case Yes but it acts like a detreminer as we have lost the meaning of lot Well thats what i reckon but i am not sure but that will work for all of the a lot of`s

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Of course, "of" and "to" are prepositions. But as these two prepositions have become case markers for genitive and dative in English they are special preposions. I think to do them justice you have to invent a name. I don't need one, because I have no problem with genitive and dative. But perhaps you try case-marker prepositions.


"A lot of something" has the same structucture as "a bucket of water" or "a sack of flour", an expression indicating how much of what. "Of" is the genitive preposition indicating a partitive genitive.

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When I went to diagram this, I found that "I had a lot of time." I subject, had verb, in all actuality the thing I had was "a lot", determiner followed by head noun, and the "of time" then is the postmodifier for the noun phrase. Yet, we are really using the phrase "a lot" to describe how much-the function of a determiner. That would make the "of time" then the prepositional phrase acting as a noun. I would be on board with either response seeing as how form and function are always playing against each other and in this case it is a draw. From phone sorry about the grammar issues in the response.

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