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 for three days but he has already made three 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 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 have time.
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.
Note: Little can also be an Adverb
Little can also be used as an adverb without a noun. It can be used with verbs (e.g. know, care, grow) to express how much someone knows, cares, or grows. For example:
- I know little about it. (Little = not much, not a lot; this sounds negative)
- He knows a little about it. (A little = less than ‘some’, but more than none; this sounds more positive)
Someone who knows a little knows more than someone who knows little.
- She has grown little. (little = not much, not a lot)
- Her brother has grown a little. (a little = less than ‘some’ but more than none; this is similar to ‘slightly’).
The sister has not grown very much (‘little’ means not enough, and has a negative feeling). However, her brother has grown a little, which means he has grown (but less than “he has grown some”).
Do you think you understand? Take the quiz below! If you have any questions, please leave a comment.
Write a few, few, a little, little in the below lines. Good luck.
- Roger wants to buy a new car. His friend has a Toyota, and he’s had problems with it, so Roger is thinking about buying a Toyota too. However, Roger has money. In fact, he probably doesn’t have enough to buy a new car.
- My friend Tina has space left on her hard drive, so can’t download big files. She’s thinking about buying a bigger hard drive, but she’s worried that she won’t be able to install it. She knows about computers. Her computer is getting pretty old. It breaks down times a day. I told her she should just buy a new computer.
- Caroline wants to lose weight, so she has started using the stairs at work instead of taking the elevator.
- few, little
- little, little, a few
- a little
– Written by Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)
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