The Difference: a few / few and a little / little (English Grammar)

The Difference between ‘A few’ and ‘Few’ (Used with Countable Nouns)

a few = two or three / a couple

  • I have a few friends who speak Japanese.
  • I have met a few famous people in my life.

In these sentences, a few means two or three. A few is less than some but more than none. A few is used with countable nouns (friends, people).

few = not many / almost none 

  • Mary has made few mistakes in her life.

This means that she has not made many mistakes in her life. This sounds positive. She does not make many mistakes. However, if Mary had made a few mistakes in her life, then it means she has made two or three (a couple, close to several) mistakes. She has made mistakes. This sounds more negative. Let’s look at another example to make it clearer.

A Few vs. Few: An Example

Imagine that a student named Carlos has just moved to Toronto. He has been there three days but he has already made 3 friends. What would you say in this situation?

Carlos has already made friends. 

Now, imagine that another student, Jose, who is very shy, has been in Toronto for a year. Despite this, he has only made three friends. What would you say?

Jose has made friends. 

Can you see the difference? Jose has not made many friends. This means he has made few friends. On the other hand, Carlos has already made two three friends. He has a few friends.

The Difference between ‘a little’ and ‘little’ (Used with Uncountable Nouns)

Now, if you understand the difference between a few and few, then the difference between a little and little is easy. The only difference is a little and little are used with uncountable nouns (e.g. sugar, money, stress).

A little = less than some but more than none

He put a little sugar in his coffee.

little = not much

We have little time, so let’s start working.

He had little experience working with children, so he was not hired.

A Little vs. Little: An Example

You want to check your e-mail before you leave the house. You check your watch and see that you have 4 minutes. Therefore, you decide to check your e-mail because you havetime.

If you had little time, you probably wouldn’t check your email because that would mean you do not have much. This implies that you have less time than you need.

 

Do you think you understand? Take the quiz below!  If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Quiz: a few / few / a little / a little ?

– Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com

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46 comments on “The Difference: a few / few and a little / little (English Grammar)

  1. frank (Posted on 8-10-2015 at 21:22) Reply

    thanks, i love it

  2. THAMBIYAPILLAI C (Posted on 10-6-2015 at 12:54) Reply

    VERY GOOD EXPLANATION, THANK YOU

  3. Gesiel Marcos Pereira de Almeida (Posted on 11-6-2015 at 16:51) Reply

    Gostei disso gostaria de ver o resultado

  4. mhiztre shuga (Posted on 11-11-2015 at 00:36) Reply

    Thanks..I very ohk

  5. Ram (Posted on 11-29-2015 at 03:39) Reply

    Clear explanation thank u

  6. Appiah Charles (Posted on 2-2-2016 at 04:17) Reply

    Excellent! Infact perfect tutorials. keep it up!

  7. Sara Baloch (Posted on 2-11-2016 at 10:14) Reply

    Thanks, it was helpful for me

  8. Aubrey jere (Posted on 2-11-2016 at 10:40) Reply

    Yap yap that’s so helpful and I get something from it.

  9. ZULAY CRIOLLO. (Posted on 2-15-2016 at 21:12) Reply

    it is very interesting,it help me a lot of.

  10. Rahim Yousefzadeh (Posted on 2-29-2016 at 15:03) Reply

    Thank you it was very useful for me.

  11. Harjeet Pachisya (Posted on 3-4-2016 at 04:26) Reply

    very nice description thanks a lot

  12. Jacques (Posted on 3-6-2016 at 22:24) Reply

    hello?how ar U?am still have question about few and a few.Imagine if U are juste doing a text or an exam thé teacher give this question of complete with few and a few how are U going to use it cuz WR know that both of used with countable nouns?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-7-2016 at 14:58) Reply

      You have to read the sentence and guess whether the answer matches “not many” (= few) or “some” (= a few). If it sounds negative, e.g. not many, write ‘few’.

  13. clara (Posted on 3-18-2016 at 23:44) Reply

    thank you, it’s very useful

  14. K (Posted on 3-20-2016 at 19:49) Reply

    Thank you.
    Very helpful.

  15. ishasha (Posted on 3-22-2016 at 00:19) Reply

    thank you >>> you helped me <3

  16. nikitha (Posted on 4-12-2016 at 07:30) Reply

    i learned a lot on the difference between few a few and little a little! thank you very much.

  17. rahul (Posted on 4-24-2016 at 12:38) Reply

    superbly explained. thanks

  18. Abd (Posted on 5-6-2016 at 03:52) Reply

    Great …thanks

  19. nimo (Posted on 5-7-2016 at 07:35) Reply

    Thanks

  20. William (Posted on 5-14-2016 at 17:23) Reply

    This is all I wanted.

  21. chaima dz (Posted on 5-20-2016 at 17:43) Reply

    Thank you very much your explanation helped me a lot

  22. Abedi (Posted on 6-5-2016 at 14:28) Reply

    Thanks for your explain!

  23. syilvi (Posted on 6-8-2016 at 10:26) Reply

    Hello! It is quite complete but i have a question, it say that a few and few are for countable noun, and many source on google say the same but i found a sentence that say “but there were a few shower in the evening”. I am confused, you are a native speaker, so would you mind helping me? Thanks for your attention@

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 6-8-2016 at 10:59) Reply

      “there were a few shower in the evening” is an incorrect sentence. “there were a few showers” is correct.

      1. syilvi (Posted on 6-8-2016 at 22:33) Reply

        Oh oke i get it. Thank you! But which is correct i get it or i got it if i want to say i understand?

        1. mb Post author (Posted on 6-9-2016 at 00:31) Reply

          Both are fine in this context .”I got it” = I understood. “I get it” = I understand.

          1. syilvi (Posted on 6-11-2016 at 01:13)

            What is the different between i understood and understand? I am sorry so much question, tjanks for your replyy

        2. mb Post author (Posted on 6-11-2016 at 20:12) Reply

          ‘I understood’ is in the past tense, and ‘I understand’ is the present tense. Usually we say “I understand” when we are talking about something happening now

          1. syilvi (Posted on 6-11-2016 at 23:12)

            Ohh i get it . Thank you sooo muchhh, i learn muchh this time

  24. Joseph (Posted on 6-11-2016 at 04:10) Reply

    yes

  25. soraya (Posted on 6-15-2016 at 12:22) Reply

    Thanks a bunch, the explanation was so practical, an complete

  26. Anonymous (Posted on 6-16-2016 at 05:41) Reply

    Thank you

    1. S.K Thakor (Posted on 6-16-2016 at 05:42) Reply

      Thank you

  27. kiruthika (Posted on 6-22-2016 at 12:27) Reply

    Can u give some more e.g.? Plzz

  28. Sadia (Posted on 8-20-2016 at 11:44) Reply

    Thx…its so helpful

  29. Simukoko Dan (mungwi technical sec sch) (Posted on 8-23-2016 at 10:40) Reply

    This has been so helpful. Infact u guys keep it up with this grt work…

  30. Hailey (Posted on 9-25-2016 at 10:01) Reply

    Interesting fact!!! Didn’t know till now!

  31. Nitish bhardwaj (Posted on 9-29-2016 at 11:29) Reply

    Very well explaination….

  32. Bertha (Posted on 10-6-2016 at 18:52) Reply

    Thank youuuu so much, you help me understand more :)

  33. MBLR (Posted on 10-6-2016 at 23:25) Reply

    i can’t understand i at all, i have not clear how to use A few and A little, can someone translate the words few – a few – little – a little to spanish?, please

  34. DORI (Posted on 10-22-2016 at 15:44) Reply

    Great….I love it

  35. Hezron mwangi (Posted on 11-5-2016 at 04:30) Reply

    All I wanted ….very helpful thank you.

  36. Aymeenkumar (Posted on 12-20-2016 at 01:13) Reply

    Top class!!!.. excercises are awesome.. Could learn the crux in no time…

  37. Arvind pandey (Posted on 12-21-2016 at 05:51) Reply

    Thanks…really much helpfull

  38. Mukhtar Ahmad (Posted on 12-30-2016 at 01:06) Reply

    That’s really helpful.

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