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.

 

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.

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

– Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com

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

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

    VERY GOOD EXPLANATION, THANK YOU

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

    Gostei disso gostaria de ver o resultado

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

    Clear explanation thank u

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

    Excellent! Infact perfect tutorials. keep it up!

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

    very nice description thanks a lot

  6. 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’.

  7. 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.

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

    superbly explained. thanks

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

    Thank you very much your explanation helped me a lot

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

    Thanks for your explain!

  11. 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

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

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

  13. 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

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

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

  15. Roro.1199@gmail.com Roro (Posted on 5-8-2017 at 08:51) Reply

    When i was abroad , i had….time for amusement .(little-alittle) . which answer is correct .

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 5-10-2017 at 13:50) Reply

      if you want to say that you did not have enough time for amusement, use “little”.

  16. Anonymous (Posted on 5-19-2017 at 23:46) Reply

    oky few ,afew has same meaning how can i understand each

  17. google browser (Posted on 7-3-2017 at 01:35) Reply

    here, can’t we say ”a little money” in spite of saying ”little money” in the given question?

    1. MB (Posted on 7-3-2017 at 03:25) Reply

      Not really. Because of the word ‘However’ (meaning ‘but’), we know that the statement is going to contrast the previous one, i.e. it’s going to say something negative, which is why ‘little’ (meaning not enough) is most suitable. Think of it this way, ” +, However, -” . The first statement says he wants to buy a car. Next, ‘however’,…’ is going to introduce something negative (e.g. a problem, such as having not enough (little) money.

  18. sserge sawadogo (Posted on 7-4-2017 at 13:29) Reply

    Tthanks for the explanation!

  19. Ashutosh (Posted on 8-3-2017 at 08:30) Reply

    Thanks for the quiz

  20. Raphael (Posted on 10-17-2017 at 17:58) Reply

    can you mark and give me the result

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-18-2017 at 02:56) Reply

      The quiz should give you a score after you complete it. You can also ‘View Questions’ to see your mistakes.

  21. Mohammad (Posted on 1-31-2018 at 07:19) Reply

    I really appreciate you for your great explaination which helped me so much!!!.

  22. Anonymous (Posted on 8-13-2018 at 05:28) Reply

    It is very useful, and the version of English is gorgeous. I like it.

  23. S.H (Posted on 12-26-2018 at 05:09) Reply

    Is it correct that we use few for uncountable noun? and another question….icant ay for lunch I have…..money.1)few. ,2)little. ,3)a little…….please explain for me.Thanks:-)

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-26-2018 at 14:34) Reply

      Hello. No, you cannot use ‘few’ with an uncountable noun. In the example that you gave, the noun is ‘money’. Because this is an uncountable noun, we can only use ‘little’ (or ‘a little’) here. Because the meaning of the sentence is ‘not enough’ / ‘inadequate’ (money), we should use ‘little’ and not ‘a little’

  24. julius (Posted on 2-12-2019 at 12:39) Reply

    I find it interesting am in a position to differentiate without straining

  25. Mauricio Vianello Martins (Posted on 4-16-2019 at 11:09) Reply

    The correct awnser in the quiz is “She knows little about computers”.. but computer is not a countable noun? Shoud not be few in this case?

    1. Mauricio Vianello Martins (Posted on 4-16-2019 at 12:19) Reply

      Actually, the noun of the sentence would be ‘knowledge’ right? If so, the use of ‘little’ is correct.. I did not know we have to considere implied nouns..

      1. mb Post author (Posted on 4-16-2019 at 14:29) Reply

        Hello Mauricio. ‘Little’ / ‘A little’ can also be used as an adverb without a noun. However, the page did not explain that very well, so I have added an explanation (see above above “Do you think you understand?”). Thank you for your comment; it has made the page better.

  26. tvishaa (Posted on 6-30-2019 at 10:51) Reply

    THANKYOU this one helped.!!

  27. Hammad (Posted on 10-24-2019 at 14:18) Reply

    Hello Sir i wanted to learn about how we write creatively in essay if some topic have given to us

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-24-2019 at 22:12) Reply

      Hello. This doesn’t seem to be related to the topic of the page. I suggest you ask your instructor.

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