Can the definite article, "the" be used after the idiomatic phrases like "a number of" or "a lot of"? And I would like to know the reason for the answer.

I made example sentences below.

A number of people/the people have become members of the organization.

We have a lot of things/the things to do.

Plenty of liquid/the liquid is on the floor.

Thank you. :)


The first thing you must do is to decide whether the noun requires an article in the given sentence.

... people have become members

... things to do

... liquid on the floor

The idiomatic way to say "There are tasks which we must complete" is "We have things to do", without an article. If you wish to refer pointedly to those tasks, you could use the demonstrative ("We can't go to the movies. Don't you remember that we have those things to do?"). Or if you wish to make those specific tasks the subject of a sentence: "The things we have to do are not easy to do".

Then you have to ask whether the quantifier allows an article. Some do, some don't.

A plenty is ungrammatical when used in a partitive sense.

Plenty of the liquid is on the floor, even though most of it went down the drain.

"Plenty" works just like "some" or "much"

Much of the liquid is on the floor.
A much of ... ungrammatical

Some of the liquid is on the floor.
A some of ... ungrammatical

But we can say "a little" and "a few".

A little of the liquid is on the floor. The little that did not spill remains in the bottle.

Little of the liquid remains in the bottle.

A few people remained on the train platform when the announcement was made that the train had been cancelled. The few who remained did not believe the announcement, and they were correct.

Few people think SEPTA is well-managed.

  • I am sorry for being late to responding to your answer. Thank you very much for the detailed explanation. Nov 25 '16 at 4:55
  • In the final example sentences, as for the "liquid", "The little" seems to be the "little" of the liquid but as for the "people on the train platform", "The few" seems to be the "a few" people. Here, as "little" means a very small amount and "a few" means a little bit more amount than that, when "the" is attached in front of "little" or "few", can it mean either of "a little(a few)" or "little(few)" depending on the context? Nov 25 '16 at 5:01
  • I know "little" or "a little" are for uncountable nouns and "few" or "a few" are for countable nouns. The reason I am asking you this is because I have been taught that "a little" means more amount than "little" and "a few" means more amount than "few". Sorry to bother you. :) Nov 25 '16 at 5:14
  • 1
    The difference between "a little" and "little" is not one of exact amounts but of perceived amounts. It is a question of "spin". Are you familiar with the philosophical question, "Is the glass half empty or half full?" ? A person who thinks the glass is half empty could say "Little remains in the glass". A person who thinks the glass is half full could say "A little remains in the glass". A little has a positive spin and means "(at least) something" whereas little has a negative spin and means "hardly anything". Nov 25 '16 at 11:46
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    But don't get me wrong, it isn't just a question of philosophical outlook. When we wish to emphasize the negative, the lack, we omit the article and say "little" or "few". To emphasize the positive, we use the article. Little was known about the reclusive painter during his life but we do have a few well-established facts. Nov 25 '16 at 11:55

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