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In the following sentence, what is the meaning of whole?

I have a whole bunch of stuff to do this morning.

I understand the meaning of "a bunch of something," but I am not clear why whole should be used in that sentence.

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This is a modern idiom (esp. US, informal). The following two sentences are roughly equivalent:

I have a whole bunch of stuff to do this morning.

I have lots of things to do this morning.

The idiom "whole bunch of stuff" (also bunch of stuff, whole ton of stuff etc) is a somewhat informal way of saying "lots of things".

It alludes to the large number of things [that need to be done this morning] without being specific as to what they are or specifically how many of those things there really are - for example because the speaker merely wants the listener to be aware that the speaker is busy, without necessarily wishing to brief the listener on the particularities of what the speaker is doing. This might be because:

  • The speaker can't tell the listener on grounds of sensitivity
  • The speaker doesn't know the details
  • The details are not important to the point the speaker is trying to get across.

The CEO can't see you today, Mr. Jones. He's got a whole bunch of stuff to do this morning and has asked not to be disturbed.

Dave - can you make sure that I'm not disturbed for the next hour or so? I've got a whole bunch of stuff I need to sort out before our meeting with the Senator.

We got to meet with the President, but he was a bit delayed because the CIA were briefing him on a whole bunch of stuff and their meeting overran.

I work much harder than Alice. I mean, this morning I did a whole ton of stuff whilst she was chatting with her boyfriend on the phone.

  • I get that whole in whole bunch of doesn't change the meaning of the phrase. Or does a whole bunch of have a meaning that is slightly different from a bunch of? – kiamlaluno Apr 17 '13 at 15:32
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    whole bunch of stuff and bunch of stuff are equivalent. whole is either used as an intensifier, or just to improve the rhythm of the sentence. It doesn't add any meaning to the sentence. – Matt Apr 17 '13 at 15:34
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It is used for emphasis. Look at these dictionary examples. (They include "a whole bunch.")

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OP's whole bunch of stuff gives an impression of "uneducated" speech. A more "acceptable" informal version would be, for example whole lot of things (that's 319,000 written instances in Google Books).

In such constructions, whole is being used somewhat loosely as an intensifier (meaning approximately complete/entire, with connotations of large/substantial).

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    I disagree that "whole bunch of stuff" implies "uneducated" - although I'll agree that it's certainly very informal. For example, here is Matt Barrie, the CEO of freelancer using it in a presentation to shareholders: sramanamitra.com/2011/11/05/… – Matt Apr 24 '13 at 16:44
  • @Matt♦: You cannot be serious! The fact that Barrie (who has imho a very informal writing style) uses the form hardly argues for it being typical of formal/careful/educated speech. I don't say it's evidence of his lack of education as an individual, obviously. But I think it's a racing cert that on average people who habitually use bunch of stuff instead of lot of things are likely to be less educated. Just as you can assume the same about people who habitually use totally to mean really, very much (as in "I totally love that song!"*). – FumbleFingers Apr 24 '13 at 17:36
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    I wasn't saying that it's not uneducated because Matt Barrie uses it - I was saying that it isn't uneducated full stop. Language moves on, and classifying parts of it as "uneducated" versus "educated" is just artificial prejudice. Yes, some young people say "lol" and "totally" and "like" - but that's no more "stupid" and "uneducated" than you saying uneducated words like "hello", "tomorrow", "yes" and "you" instead of "How do you do", "to-morrow", "yea" and "thou". – Matt Apr 24 '13 at 17:53
  • @Matt♦: We clearly have very different views on what an impression of "uneducated" speech means. It never remotely crossed my mind to associate "uneducated" with "stupid", for example. But highly-educated people naturally tend to use older and more formal constructions, if only because of a tendency to emulate the speech patterns of their professors (who tend to be older, and conduct themselves more formally). Whatever - I don't see this debate leading anywhere useful. We just disagree. – FumbleFingers Apr 24 '13 at 18:12

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