the difference between words: little and a little, few and a few


Many of my students complain about articles (a/an, the) because they don’t exist in Japanese as well as in many other languages. This makes them very difficult to learn and many people don’t try to use them because they think they’re not important for basic communication. This is true in many cases, but sometimes they are extremely important and are necessary for effective communication. Today’s blog is about the difference between “little” or “few” and “a little” or “a few” and, in these cases, the “a” is very important!

We use “little” or “few” when we want to say there is not a lot of something; that the amount of something is very small. We use “a little” or “a few” when we want to say there is a certain amount of something which is a little smaller than saying there is “some” of it. Therefore, “little” or “few” sounds much more negative than “a little” or “a few”, and they indicate a much smaller amount of something.

Also, you should note that we use “little” and “a little” for uncountable nouns, and we use “few” and “a few” for countable nouns. For example:

Little of my knowledge comes from reading books; most of it has come from watching TV.

I have very little experience with computers. I only got my first computer two months ago!

Few people in my school are from foreign countries. I would say 99% of us were born in this country.

In Canada, few companies allow the employees to smoke inside. Most of them make people go outside to smoke.

We have a little beer in the fridge, so you can have some if you like.

I have a little time at 3:00 if you want to talk about the project then.

If you’re looking for a place to live, my building has a few empty apartments. You should come and check them out.

There are a few really good Indian restaurants in my city. I really enjoy going to them.

So, as I mentioned already we use “little” and “few” in situations which are more negative. Basically “little” is the same thing as “not much”, and “few” is the same thing as “not many”. If you want to think of them as being on a scale, it would be as follows:

none -> almost none -> few/little ->a few/a little -> some -> many/much/a lot of -> most -> almost all -> all


1 Comment »

  1. HARRY ENYO Said:

    Your explanation realy helped me. Tanks

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