Is "Alot" a Word?

Q: Why are so many people using “alot” instead of “a lot”? There’s no such word as “alot,” right? I can’t find any source that says it’s an acceptable word, yet it’s in constant use. Can you help me? —Lynn B.

A: You are correct: “alot” is not a legitimate word in the English language and has no place in sentences, paragraphs or advertisements on the side of buses (I’ve seen this twice!). So my answer is: I have no idea why so many people use it. They must be crazy.

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18 thoughts on “Is "Alot" a Word?

  1. pacole

    When I taught ESL 6 years ago, my international students (from Korea and China) used an electronic dictionary which showed “alot” as one word. I was constantly correcting them to add a space. But because their electronic dictionaries showed “alot” as one word, they hardly believed me. Probably they thought I was behind the times. Until the electronic dictionaries correctly say “alot” is one word, we’ll have trouble convincing English learners and our youth that a lot is two words.

  2. Roberta Martone Pavia

    Wait a minute….somewhere along the line I was told that "a lot" meant a piece of land and "alot" meant a large quantity of something. When did this change???

  3. M. Lane

    Allot is a verb, as has been noted above. However, what is probably being challenged is the use of "a lot" as a colloquially expressive phrase describing quantity. It is a legitimate use of the expression, as idiomatic phrases are allowable. A lot simply means a significant or large amount. A similar example would be "a great deal." No one is going to argue the permissibility of that expression. The problem is that spelling "a lot" by removing the space is creating confusion. It isn’t one word, but two.

  4. Yael

    Brett asked:
    "Why do we admit the use of a word like ‘into,’ (which, like alot, is simply two words squished together) but we don’t like ‘alot?’ I suppose alot more time will have to go by before ‘alot’ is allotted its place in the English language."

    Because "alot" is a misspelling of a phrase that has a correct spelling, "a lot." This is similar to someone spelling "cemetery" as "cemetary." It’s not how it’s spelled. (Of course some people will always make the argument that spelling evolves, but we do have standard spellings for virtually all words now.)

    But "into" does not have the same meaning as "in to" — it’s subtle but there is a difference. "Into" is a preposition of its own and is not a squished-together form of "in to." Which to use depends on whether the word that comes before it must be followed by the preposition "to" in order to make sense, or whether what is needed is a preposition to show direction/location of some action/object. For example:

    She put the cat into the bag. (Use "into" to show where she put the cat. It would not be correct to write, "She put the cat in to the bag." The correct preposition is "into.")

    But:

    She gave in to make peace. (The expression is "gave in" so you wouldn’t combine "in" with "to" — which is part of the verb.)

    If "alot" were accepted as an alternate spelling of "a lot," we’d be heading down a path that allows any common misspelling of a word to become a legitimate word. As an editor, I really don’t want to go down that path!

  5. Sherry Christie

    In the most recent two books I’ve read (both by writers who seemed quite literate), I’ve seen the locution "forbidden from" rather than "forbidden to." For example, "I was forbidden from walking in the street." This sounds more awkward than "I was forbidden to walk in the street." Are both usages acceptable these days?

  6. Carol Anne Buckley

    People who use "alot" aren’t crazy, and they may not be simply writing mistakes they’ve seen on signs. After all, where did the sign painters get the idea?

    Language change happens as each generation reinterprets the language of the previous, as a part of natural language acquisition. Some people, somewhere, stopped interpreting the spoken words (particularly, the sound pattern) of "a lot of" as article + noun + partitive/possessive and began interpreting "alot" as a word analogous to "more": "alot of that," cf. "more of that". This could be a noun; but I suspect this started with the adverbial phrase, as in "I go there a lot (presumably understood, on a lot of occasions)" –> "I go there alot," where "alot" would be a simple adverb.

    Other than in writing, where we put spaces between words, and in prescriptive grammarians’ heads, it’s unclear what a word is, or what part of speech a word is. Why do we say, "a boatload of" and not "aboatload of"?

    In any event, reinterpreting word boundaries and words’ functional roles (a.k.a. parts of speech) is normal, at least to real humans and descriptive linguists. It’s only "crazy" if you know (and care) that it’s not accepted usage; personally, I would care because editors care.

  7. Brett Birdsong

    I remember being confused the first time I used the word ‘alot’ and my spell checker claimed it was misspelled. I thought, how can that be? I use the word ‘alot,’ alot. Alot of my friends use the word. In fact, alot of people use it alot.

    Why do we admit the use of a word like ‘into,’ (which, like alot, is simply two words squished together) but we don’t like ‘alot?’ I suppose alot more time will have to go by before ‘alot’ is allotted its place in the English language.

    If English really is a living language, why isn’t it allowed to grow to reflect its usage? Is that asking alot?

  8. :Donna

    I’m 52-years-old, and I saw the word "alot" in print often enough to believe it was an actual word and it wasn’t until I became a "serious" writer did I find out that it wasn’t. The same goes for "alright".

    Now having found that it’s proper to use "a lot" and "all right", that’s what I do and it’s become more second-nature to me now.

    Also, "alot" is not the correct spelling for the definition someone mentioned; the proper spelling is "allot".

  9. Siddhartha

    I understand the English language change, that it didn’t have formal rules until recently and that those rules change over time as well.

    I just don’t want it to change in my lifetime. Is that too much to ask?

  10. Kathleen Moulton

    It seems to me this lovely little word should surely be considered as slang and make it into the dictionary.

    The word "lots" is a term used for an imprecise amount of large quantities. Surely, partly the reason we use the word "alot" is because we are thinking of the above definition.

    What word could we use in place of alot?

    Kathy Moulton

  11. Brian A. Klems

    Hey Tara,

    I’ve had several people mention this and I thought it’d be best to address it here: "alot" is not a word, but "allot" is. Allot means to distribute portions of something among multiple recipients. It’s a derivative of "allotment" I believe.

    Thanks again for reading the blog!
    Brian

  12. Paul Martin

    It’s funny that a ‘word’ like ‘alot’ can never gain acceptance into the English language, but ‘blog’ can. Language is constantly changing and it was only recently that we decided there were rules to it, mostly since the invention of both written word and print media.

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