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CGEL* lists these nouns as "number-transparent":

lots, bags, heaps, loads, oodles, stacks

According to CGEL, these nouns are number-transparent in that they allow "the number of the oblique to percolate up to determine the number of the whole NP."

I can see how lots can be number-transparent. For example, lots of people is treated as plural whereas lots of money as singular. I can't think of any exception to lots being number-transparent.

But are the other nouns really number-transparent as well? Here are counterexamples of each of these nouns:

Police officers walk in and out of the bank in what is supposedly a hostage situation, bags of money are exchanged, and corrupt politicians are brought to book without so much as a care about logic or believability. (News article 1)

From velvet chokers to oversized denim, heaps of the decade’s clothing have snuck their way back into my wardrobe, but nothing quite holds the nostalgic charm of concert apparel. (News article 2)

Bucket loads of money were poured into investigating and prosecuting crimes, while legal aid programs for impoverished defendants were starved. (News article 3)

The B.C. Liberals defend the practice on the grounds the donations are publicly disclosed. But the disclosure comes long after a donation has been made, and all they show is that oodles of money are given to the Liberals by resource companies and Vancouver-area real-estate developers – who based on the track record of donations must feel they are getting value for money. (News article 4)

The man also asked where the stacks of money were, and whether Fisher kept any gold, but Fisher had neither. (News article 5)

Are these all somehow mistakes on the part of the editors of these articles? Or these nouns are not really number-transparent, unlike lots?

*CGEL: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 350) by Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K.

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    You first need to make sure that what you are dealing with are really metaphorical ('vague quantifier') usages rather than literal ones. 'The man also asked where the stacks of money were' sounds literal to me, and this would force the plural verb-form. I'd not use 'Oodles of money are ...', or 'bags of money are' (unless literal), but I'm guessing that the non-number-transparent usages of the quantifiers are far from uncommon. Why don't you check using Google Ngrams, say? Feb 6, 2018 at 9:34
  • A relevant article at Grammar Quizzes by Julie Sevastopoulos includes: > Pattern 3b: Noun/Noun Phrase → Singular or Plural (Agrees with > Closest Noun) > > A LOT OF / LOTS OF / A MAJORITY OF > > lots, bags, heaps, loads, oodles, stacks > > A lot of the work is hard. (sing.) > > A lot of the jobs are hard. (pl.) ...... This is in total agreement with CGEL here. I'd agree with you that your 'counterexamples', where actually quantifier usages rather than true partitives, are at least close to non-standard. Feb 6, 2018 at 9:52
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks for the comments. So I take it that 'a lot of' and 'lots of' are always metaphorically used, whereas the other nouns (bags, heaps, loads, oodles, stacks) you have first see how they're used in context, and then you can figure out whether they're metaphorically or literally used. Do you agree with this generalization?
    – JK2
    Feb 7, 2018 at 4:14
  • @EdwinAshworth Also, I'm not sure why CGEL only mentions the plural forms (bags, heaps, loads, stacks) when their singular forms (bag, heap, load, stack) can also be in the form of "a bag of", "a heap of", "a load of", and "a stack of", just like "a lot of". (I think 'oodles' is not used in the singular form)
    – JK2
    Feb 7, 2018 at 4:19
  • 2
    Sadly, CGEL, like any other grammar, isn't perfect. And in 100 years will doubtless be further from perfect. Feb 7, 2018 at 9:52

2 Answers 2

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I think some of the comments hit on the answer here. The difference is abstract as opposed to concrete. If I say:

Stacks of knowledge are waiting for you in the library.

I mean, that there are actual stacks (concrete) in the library. If I say:

Stacks of knowledge is what I want.

I mean to indicate a non-specific generically large (abstract) amount of knowledge.

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AFAIK, some words such as bags, tons, cans, loads, heaps, etc. We tend to call them "unit words", which means they are countable nouns. This means any uncountable noun modified by them will be wrapped as countable ones, some verbs in the plural form are OK.

Take these as examples:

a. *Millions of tons of clean water were sent to the people in poverty.

(Here 'were' is a plural verb form, because water has been divided into tons and it's the tons with water that were sent to the people.....).*

b. Two bags of rice were stolen by someone.

(Here of course 'were' is used as a plural form, because two bags with rice were stolen).


However it DOENS'T mean any unit word + an uncountable noun with a plural form of verb after it, Just like what @Zeal's example for explanations of an abstract idea or thing. Besides, if we take them as a whole to function instead of each of them, the verb may also be in the singular form.

e.g:

Two heaps of straw has bowed him down.

(Here "two heaps" can be regarded as a whole thing, and neither of them can bow him down).


For Quantities of/oodles of ... etc, a plural form of verb is often used after them, because the words themselves are in the form of plurals. But for an abstract idea or meaning, the singular form of verb can be also used.

Compare the sentences with each other:

a. Quantities of water were wasted. ('were' is mapped to the plural form of 'Quantities' in syntax. This also may mean you see a large quantity of water is gone).

b. How fast quantities of time has flied! (Here "quantities of" means "Lots of"/"a large amount of"/"much", we just take them as an abstract idea of "time" itself instead of the enhancements of how much time has flied...So the singular form is used here).

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    Hello, B. The count/noncount usage issue is far more subtle. In 'lots/bags of money is required for this project', the plural-form noun part (lots/bags) of the quantifier (lots of / bags of) does not determine the required agreement (here, 'is'). Note that when the same phrase is used literally in the pseudopartitive string ('Three bags of potatoes are missing'), this changes. In fact, in 'Lots/Bags of money is required for this project', the noun usages are non-count, as '3/100/half a dozen /lots/bags of money are required for this project' are unacceptable. Jun 17, 2022 at 10:15
  • @EdwinAshworth: Yes, it should depend on syntax, grammar as well as the notional concord. Here're the only basic general conclusions without many exceptions according to the context. Take what you said as an example: 3 bags of money is required for the project (Because we put enhancements on "money" here as a whole). But "3 bags of money are missing in the bank" seems right because we mind the number of "bags of money" in the statement.
    – Beginner
    Jun 17, 2022 at 12:13
  • You can look at an answer discussing number-transparency in quantifiers at Agreement between subject and verb in 'a number of / the number of'. Jun 17, 2022 at 18:31

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