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Which one of the following sentences sounds awkward, and which sound more natural?

1.

a) He spent (a lot of / lots of) time.
b) He spent a great deal of time.
c) He spent a large amount of time.

2.

a) He discovered (a lot of / lots of) gold.
b) He discovered a large amount of gold.
c) He discovered a great deal of gold.

In both groups I think the choice 'c' is incorrect or at least they don't sound natural.

  • I'm just curious: Are these really your sentences? – J.R. Sep 14 '14 at 7:18
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If you're looking for so-called "natural", I'd go with:

  • "He spent a lot of time"

  • "He discovered lots of gold"

I'm answering from native speaking instinct on why "a lot of time" is more natural than "lots of time", or why "lots of gold" is more natural than "a lot of gold". This is just instinct; I cannot prove it.

But what I can say more definitively is that "a great deal of" and "a large amount of" are formal and "puffy" sounding. Nothing wrong with them, and of course people would write or say that...but when comparing these have a different character that might sound pretentious.

Consider:

"You know that guy Bruce? He made lots of money selling ice to Eskimos, I dunno how he does it!"

That's "natural" and colloquial. If you start throwing in "a great deal" or "a large amount" you are starting to sound stuffy.

"Are you familiar with that fellow, Bruce? He made a great deal of money in retail; marketing ice to Eskimos. I am unsure how he is so successful with such a questionable venture, but he's managed to garner a profit!"

As for why "lots of time" doesn't sound as natural as "a lot of time"... or why "lots of gold" sounds more natural than "a lot of gold"... I can't precisely say. I think discussing gold discovery places itself at a certain historical moment, at which you might want to slip into the casual speech of a gold prospector...whereas talking about spending "a lot of time" is something we say day to day, and has a little stricter rules?

UPDATE: I hadn't noticed the periods here (or not considered them). As pointed out in the other answer, if your sentences really are this short instead of having additional information, they are all awkward because they feel like incomplete thoughts...especially the statements about time. You'd expect the sentence to tell you what the person spent a lot of time doing, such as He spent a lot of time working in the garden. The rest of what I said would still apply.

  • thanks for the reply, but you didn't mention about one part of my question! :-) Could you please tell me whether I was right about the choice 'C' in both groups or not? I got your point about incompleteness, but I didn't get your answer regarding this part! I guess 'a great deal of gold' and 'a large amount of time' are not natural. Have you ever heard a native says such things? – A-friend Sep 14 '14 at 12:05
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    @A-friend Would anyone ever say "C"? They might. People say all sorts of things. I don't use the word "fantastic" hardly ever, but perhaps at some point in my life I've said: "I didn't spend a great deal of time on this, so don't expect it to be fantastic." We were speaking about what was more natural, but sometimes we say unnatural-sounding things, to amuse ourselves or others...or just to shake things up a little. – HostileFork Sep 14 '14 at 20:57
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The first three in group 1 are all awkward (and differ in this way from group 2) in that they do not stand alone as elegant sentences. One does not usually say "He spent [__] time" without continuing to say what the subject spent time doing, as in "He spent a lot of time playing video games." Of these three, though, if one were to make it part of such a (more descriptive) sentence, c) is awkward in its wordiness. "A great deal" is subtly "posh", but perfectly fine. (One could say the same of "perfectly fine".) :-)

For group 2, they are all acceptable but – and this applies to group 1 – each has subtlety of character.

"lots of" sounds slightly childish.

"A large amount" suggests that some clarification is to come regarding the amount.

"A great deal" (subtle posh quality) suggests a very large amount, perhaps more than "a large amount".

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