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Maybe there’s no really well-defined answer, but I’m wondering which phrase is the more significant (meaning bigger) between these two:

  • We’ve been doing a lot of work.
  • We’ve been doing a ton of work.

And even maybe including this one:

  • We’ve been doing tons of work.
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  • You answered your own question in your first sentence.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 8, 2012 at 18:52
  • I just wanted to make sure, you know. Dec 8, 2012 at 20:21
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    A ton is definitely bigger than a lot Dec 8, 2012 at 21:57
  • @Paolo Falabella: I disagree - a car that only weighs a ton is nothing to write home about. But if that's a lot of car in the driveway it probably weighs much more. Anyway, I'm voting to close because it's subjective and Not Constructive (where, for example, would shedloads of work fit on this hypothetical "scale"?). Or shitloads, come to that? Dec 9, 2012 at 5:50
  • Unless your work is stacking bricks or similar, work cannot be measured in tons. Whether stacking a ton of bricks is a lot depends on whether you are doing it by hand or with the aid of machinery. Without context and without explicit quantification it is impossible to say. Sep 11, 2015 at 11:16

2 Answers 2

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They are interchangeable and used as intensifiers. The emphasis is in the tone. There is no precise quantification intended or even possible in such a statement.

Note that you would say

We've been doing tons of work.

Not "a tons of work."

Cf. ass ton, shit load, shit ton, etc.

The only way you could establish a ton to mean more than a lot would be to use it in sequence:

Me: Been working hard lately?

You: Yeah, been doing a lot of work.

Me: Really? You seem like you have plenty of time for video games.

You: Dude, I've been doing a ton of work.

But you could easily reverse the two in that exchange and achieve the same effect.

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  • Of course I understand there's no precise quantification, but, as I understood, "a ton" is usually more significant than "a lot". By the way, thanks for correcting me about "a tons", I fixed that in my question. Dec 8, 2012 at 16:20
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    There is no metric that makes "a ton" more than "a lot" — both descriptors are essentially meaningless intensifiers.
    – Robusto
    Dec 8, 2012 at 16:23
  • See my addition.
    – Robusto
    Dec 8, 2012 at 16:30
  • Ok, I'm convinced. Dec 8, 2012 at 16:54
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    @Robusto, although a "metric shitload" would be largest ;-)
    – mgb
    Dec 9, 2012 at 3:58
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I would use "a ton" over "a lot" to infer a greater quantity or degree of something because, in my mind, a ton is a quantifiably large mass where a "a lot" is very subjective.

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    +1, yes, I agree. absolutely compelling evidence, or, more precisely, there is a ton of evidence on that, but none of it stands up to rigorous indicate what subjective is.
    – user19148
    Dec 8, 2012 at 17:20
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    Rubbish. As @Robusto says, both descriptors are essentially meaningless intensifiers. You can have loads of work (or shedloads, shitloads, stacks, whatever). But it's totally pointless to "rank" them. Dec 9, 2012 at 5:58
  • Which is more, a kilo or a lot? Which is less, a bit or a gram?
    – Hugo
    Dec 9, 2012 at 6:29
  • @FumbleFingers, it's the perception that a ton is more than a lot that's at play here, certainly not anything quantifiable. My answer is based on how I personally use and rank those two intensifiers. Dec 9, 2012 at 10:58
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    @FumbleFingers, The "rubbish!" made me laugh, so no worries. I welcome any opportunity to delve into the nuances of English language usage. :-) Dec 9, 2012 at 15:05

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