Today I want tell you three ways of expressing that there are “a lot of…” something in French. To do this we use certain unknown quantity phrases in French because “a lot of” is an unspecified quantity.
Note: The following 3 quantity phrases in French preposition “de”. This is never contracted with a definite article to form a partitive article. I.e. de + masculin noun does not become “du” and de + feminine noun does not become “de la”. I won’t go in to why because it’s important to just remember these phrases by heart as they are used a lot! There is a good article here which explains the exceptions to this rule here.
Quantity phrases in French
Here they are:
- Beaucoup de
- Plein de
- Pas mal de
1. Beaucoup de + nom
Beaucoup de + noun is probably the most well known quantity phrase in French of saying “a lot of” and should be used whenever you’re unsure if the less formal ways are appropriate.
Example: Il y a beaucoup de monde là. – There are a lot of of people here.
2. Plein de + nom
I have been told that plein de is more informal that beaucoup but not by much. This is the most common version of the 3 phrases that I hear whilst out and about in France. I do remember someone choosing to use beaucoup de when speaking to an elderly lady and this would suggest it is more respectful. I now tend to use plein de when speaking to friends. I do throw in a beaucoup de every now and again to mix it up.
Example: Il reste plein de gâteau. – There is a lot (or plenty) of cake left. Here we mean “cake” in general. If you meant there are a large number of cakes you can say “plein de gâteaux”.
Tip: If you struggle to remember plein as a quantity phrase in French just remember it looks a little like the English word plenty. A lot of can be substituted by plenty of in your head.
3. Pas mal de + nom
You might be thinking “But pas mal means not bad“, and you’d be correct. However, when putting it before de + nom it becomes a lot of + noun. This is very common in spoken French and I don’t think it should be used in written French.
Example: Il a pas mal de choses à faire. – He has a lot of things to do.
Tip: I try and remember this by saying to myself that pas mal de means not a bad amount of. It’s not perfect but it might help you.
So there you have it. I hope it helps some of you wanting to add some variety to your French!