I always ask myself, when writing, which word or phrase to use to describe a large number/amount of something because the English language has a huge variety of expressions as in the below examples.

a lot of, lots of, plenty of, a slew of, tons of, a mass of, masses of, loads of, a stack of, a heap of, a myriad of, myriads of, many, tens of, dozens of, hundreds of, thousands of, millions of, (and many more!)

I know that some of them just modify either countable or non-countable nouns only. Also, I have no question about the use of such phrases as "tens of," and "hundreds of" because it is self-explanatory. The phrases I'm uncertain about when to use are, for instance, a lot of, lots of, plenty of, a slew of, and tons of.

How do you choose any one among the five or probably among many more options?

I searched Ngram Viewer for the five phrases followed by six nouns: books, money, people, water, aid, and issues. With five out of the six words, "a lot of" is most frequently used. The only exception is "water", with which "plenty of" seems to be the best match.

  • I hate to say "Use the one that feels right for your intent," but kinda use the one that feels right. And there are hundreds of ways to describe lots of water, too, so that isn't an exception.
    – DWKraus
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 2:32

1 Answer 1


Of the five phrases you offered, here is how I would pick between them personally. This is probably not a definitive list, it's just how they are used and connotated in my writing experience.

  • a lot of is a very colloquial term for a large amount of things, and is generally more of a thing you say rather than a thing you write. "There's a lot of booze in that barn."
  • lots of is also a bit colloquial, and has basically the same connotation in English as "a lot of." "We have lots of food here."
  • plenty of has a positive connotation of there being enough to go around, or enough to share, i.e. "plenty of soup for all of us."
  • a slew of means a lot of something with a negative connotation in my experience, i.e. "a slew of problems" or "a slew of issues." It's a bit more literary in terms of where the term comes from.
  • tons of is very colloquial and means like a vast number of things, rather than just a good number of things, i.e. "tons of problems" gives the impression of more problems than having "lots of problems." "He's got tons of money" suggests being richer than "He's got lots of money."

Alternatively, you could also use a bunch of, many, numerous, a great deal of, a good deal of, a cornucopia of, etc. These each have their own connotations, with many being the usual choice since it is the shortest one-word way to express the concept.

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