In this lesson, we will be talking about some new quantifiers: few and little. These words are used to express the quantity of something. Since we just said something, you now know that we are going to be talking about small amounts this time. The difference between the words depends on just how small we are talking about.
- A few
A few is used when we talk about countable nouns and it means that the quantity is not much at all. A few also has a positive meaning behind it. For example:
- We have a few books in our library.
- I have a few friends.
- We have a few rooms in our house.
- I have a few job offers right now.
- Let’s go get a few new clothes to wear.
- We’ll see a few famous sights in the city today.
These sentences are drawing attention to the fact that we have certain options at our disposal. For example, the sentence “I have a few friends” subtly draws attention to the fact that you definitely don’t have no friends and that they are a reasonable number. “A few” can also have a subtle nuance of modesty.
Few is used to describe the small quantity in a negative way. For example:
- Our school is poor so we have few books in the library
- We have few neighbors in this area.
- Few of my family members are left.
- Few friends visited me when I was sick.
- We have few children.
- I have few hobbies.
These sentences are drawing attention to the fact that you have a low amount of something. For example, “we have few children” brings to mind an image that the parents believe that the number of children they have is somehow of such a low amount that they might need to feel ashamed about it. The article “a” can make a big difference in nuance concerning the quantifiers we are learning today.
- A little
A little is used for uncountable nouns. It has a positive meaning behind it. For example:
- I have a little money but I can handle this situation.
- Is it okay if I eat a little more?
- Can you move a little to the left?
- Can I take to you for a little bit?
- I think this dress is a little bit too big for you.
- I need a little help.
Let’s analyze one sentence here: I need a little help. This gives the idea that if you just had a little more help, you will be able to do what you need to do successfully.
Little is used for uncountable nouns to express a negative idea about quantity:
- Last year when I was in trouble. I had little money.
- There was little I could do at that point.
- We have little money left.
- We have little time to prepare right now.
- I think little of him.
- We got little enjoyment on the beach.
Here we get the very opposite feeling from “a little”. All of the sentences above have a negative, almost hopeless, feel about them. Let’s contrast two very similar sentences to really understand the difference here: “We have little money left” and “we have a little money left”.
“We have little money left” has a nuance that you have such little money now that you can’t afford anything more. “We have a little money left” means that the amount of money you have is still very small but you have just enough to afford something with it.
Important note: feel free use adjectives like “very” to make the amount even smaller. For example: very few people came to the cinema, our work is very little now.
Let’s do some exercises with what we have learned already. Explain the difference between the following sentences.
- “I have a few opportunities right now” vs. “I have few opportunities right now.”
- “I have a little time” vs. “I have little time.”