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The Oxford Dictionaries list "plenty" as a pronoun. Example sentences include:

I would have plenty of time to get home before my parents arrived

There are shops in plenty

But pronoun by definition is a word that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. How is "plenty" a pronoun in these examples? What noun/noun phrase does it substitute for? In contrast, Merriam Webster lists it as noun, not pronoun. I think in the sentence You will have plenty to draw from "plenty" is a pronoun, but it being a pronoun doesn't make sense in the two sentences above. How is the usage of "plenty" in those sentences different from that of these ones:

I need a large amount of money.

There was food and drink in abundance.

Both "amount" and "abundance" are listed as noun in dictionaries.

  • Related or possible dup english.stackexchange.com/questions/388214/… – Avrohom Yitzchok Oct 20 '18 at 21:20
  • See the answer by @Cascabel to this question, english.stackexchange.com/questions/388214/… which starts: “Although MacMillan gives the part of speech for plenty as either pronoun or adverb, depending on usage, other dictionaries are careful to specify that in the case of plenty of + noun object(s), it is a quantifier (or noun?)” – Avrohom Yitzchok Oct 20 '18 at 21:23
  • @Araucaria 1) I did not vote to close. Sorry if you were worried. 2) Cascabel's answer deals with the pronoun issue. – Avrohom Yitzchok Oct 21 '18 at 8:19
  • @AvrohomYitzchok Sorry, I mistook that for the close-vote message! – Araucaria Oct 21 '18 at 9:53
  • @AvrohomYitzchok Re 2), well kind of. They say "quantifier (noun?)". Have given a fuller answer below. – Araucaria Oct 21 '18 at 13:13
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The Original Poster is correct to be dubious about the parts of speech given by Oxford Dictionaries Online. In fact, one should be dubious about the part of speech information given in dictionaries, as a general rule. Dictionaries are wildly out of date regarding grammatical information, and effectively ignore all of the developents in this area of linguistc science since about 1920. (There are good reasons for this as described in the linked-to post)

But then again, why look up grammar information in a dictionary? Dictionaries are great at lexicography, not grammar. It's best to look up grammar information in a modern vetted grammar book!

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002) gives the word plenty as a noun, not a pronoun. More specifically, they describe it as a number transparent quantificational noun.

They further write:

Plenty is singular in form but does not admit any determiner or modifier: plenty of butter/friends, not * a remarkable plenty of butter/friends . (p.350)

The Original Poster's analysis and objections are generally very astute, apart from that even in I have plenty to choose from, the word plenty is still a noun. OP right, OD wrong!

  • What does number transparent quantificational mean? I know what each word means individually but placed next to each other they don't form a cohesion. If "plenty" is classified as a noun, does that mean "lot" in "There are a lot of people who never eat sugar" is also a noun? – Mari-Lou A Oct 21 '18 at 14:59
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    I believe in well argued points of view. "plenty of" works grammatically just like "a lot of" or "lots of" ; those mean "much" or "many" depending on context. In other words, plenty is a noun used adjectivally. That term "transparent quantificational noun" is frankly, otiose. :) – Lambie Oct 21 '18 at 15:07
  • @Mari-LouA What else would you call lot in that context but a noun? It has an indefinite article (determiner), it can be modified by adjectives (‘an awful lot of people’), it can be pluralised (‘lots of people’), etc. Lot is much easier to class quite unambiguously and uncontroversially as a noun than plenty is. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 21 '18 at 16:07
  • @Mari-Lou As to your question: number-transparent means that in constructions like an X of Y, where X is the quantificational noun (QN), it is the Y which determines the number of the whole noun phrase, even though X, not Y, is the head and ‘should’ be the determining factor. So ‘a lot of work is done’, but ‘a lot of errors were made’. This is as opposed to QNs which can force the NP to be either singular or plural and consequently are also used only with singulars or plurals (‘a great deal of work’ / ‘dozens of times’, but not ‘*a great deal of times’ / ‘*dozens of work’). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 21 '18 at 16:23
  • I’m not sure I buy H&P here. I find it just as likely that plenty is a determinative mostly limited to fused-head constructions, rather than a noun which accepts no determiners or modifiers. Even H&P must accept that dialectal constructions like “there’s plenty time” are determinative, and “plenty more ideas” is clearly predeterminative. It does not seem irrelevant to me that plenty is the only QN they mention which accepts absolutely no determiners or modifiers. At the very least, I’m not sure how you’d distinguish between such a noun and a fused-head determinative. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 21 '18 at 16:44
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Plenty entered English as a noun from Old French plentee or earlier plentet ‘abundance, profusion’ in the mid-13th c., though the partitive construction appears to be somewhat more recent:

(a1398) * Trev. Barth.(Add 27944) 24b/b: Blak eiȝen moueþ lasse for multitude & plente [L multitudinem] of humours

a1450 St.Editha (Fst B.3) 181: Plentythe of vitel þere was y-nowe.
a1450 St.Editha (Fst B.3) 519: Plenteythe of fysshe þey hadden y-nowe.

Wheat and rye have risen to a mark and 16s. a quarter. There is plenty of old corn and new barley, oats, pease, and beans. — Lord Chancellor Audeley to Cromwell, 13 Sept. 1535 (Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. ix, London, 1886).

If one admits plenty into the limited set of English quantifiers, such as some, many/much, enough, all or few, then a pronomial use should be uncontroversial:

This competition has forced many smaller companies to go out of business, although plenty are still around to compete with the big names of Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, and Papa John’s. — Leonard M. Jessup, Joseph S. Valacich, Information Systems Foundations, 1999.

Tucked away in corners of central Maine, plenty are still crazy about the most popular sport on the planet, Travis Barrett writes. — “The World Cup in the digital age,” CentralMaine.com, 23 June 2018.

My host in Paris once sent me across the city for what she promised was the best eclair, even though there were plenty available right around the corner.

While there are a number of listings run as investment properties, complete with a property manager and call center if you call for help, plenty are still the original Airbnb idea — a room in someone's home, or their house that they vacate for you. — NBC News, 11 July 2018.

If you want the hottest ticket in town [for Hamilton], plenty are still available through Ticketmaster. But be prepared to pay as high as $1500 apiece. — Boston Globe, 9 Oct. 2018.

If you replace plenty with some or many in these examples, you might change the relative quantity of pizza chains, eclaires, or theater tickets, but you won’t be changing the grammar: plenty functions identically to quantifiers used as pronouns.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, however, this use of plenty without a partitive of-phrase, as frequent as it is today, doesn’t seem to predate the 19th c.:

The merchants might as well be employed in the importation of foreign wheat, when plenty is to be procured in the home market, — The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 27 June 1827.

“Mother wants your sifter, and she guesses you can let her have some sugar and tea, ’cause you’ve got plenty.” — Newburgh Telegraph (NY), 31 Oct. 1839.

I have only about one bushel of the Carolina, but plenty are to be had of Baker & Hamilton, Sacramento city. — J. S. Curtis, “California Pea-nuts,” California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, 1 Feb. 1855.

It is highly probable they will fall in with Indians, as plenty are about. — San Antonio Texan, 12 Feb. 1857.

Even so, plenty as noun is far more frequent in 19th c. sources, appearing in contexts where contemporary speakers would likely say an abundance, a sufficient number/amount of or simply plenty of. One author draws a marked distinction:

Plenty is, however, more frequent in the literal sense for that which fills the body ; abundance, for that which fills the mind, or the desire of the mind: a plenty of provisions is even more common than an abundance; a plenty of food; a plenty of corn, wine, and oil : but an abundance of words; an abundance of riches; an abundance of wit and humour. — George Crabb, English synonymes explained in alphabetical order, 1818 (repr.1978), 736.

This author apparently didn’t get the memo:

A plenty of people die, or survive a long or acute illness but half alive, for want of efficient nursing. — Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, A Ragged Register: (of People, Places and Opinions), 1879, 120.

Pronoun, Yes or No?

While Merriam-Webster only lists plenty as a noun, adjective, or adverb, MacMillan follows Oxford in giving it a pronomial use. I assume this decision rests with whether the editors wished to include the word as a quantifier in standard English or not. CGEL’s always singular “number transparent quantificational noun” never using a determiner sounds so overqualified as to be a subset of one. A few snips of Occam’s razor to this definition would suffice to parse plenty as a noun like abundance or as a pronoun like some or many.

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