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.

  • 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 '18 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 '18 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 '18 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 '18 at 4:19
  • 1
    Sadly, CGEL, like any other grammar, isn't perfect. And in 100 years will doubtless be further from perfect. Feb 7 '18 at 9:52

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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.