English language learners often find the words «little», «a little», «few», and «a few» confusing. These words seem quite simple, but they hold subtle differences that can significantly impact your sentence’s meaning. By the end of this article, you’ll understand how to use them effectively in your communication.
Little vs Few
«Little» and «few» are quantifiers and are used to indicate small amounts or numbers. However, «little» is used with uncountable nouns, and «few» is used with countable nouns. For example, you would say «little water» (water is uncountable) but «few apples» (apples are countable).
Example sentences with “little” and “few»
I have little patience for such behaviour. (patience = uncountable noun)
There’s little sugar left in the jar. (sugar = uncountable noun)
Few people understand the complexity of this issue. (people = countable noun)
I made few mistakes in the exam. (mistakes = countable noun)
A Little vs A Few
«A little» and «a few» also indicate small amounts, but they are slightly more positive because they imply that while the quantity may be small, it is enough. Like «little» and «few», «a little» is used with uncountable nouns, and «a few» is used with countable nouns.
Example sentences with “a little” and “a few»
Can I have a little more tea, please? (tea = uncountable noun)
There is a little hope that we can win the game. (hope = uncountable noun)
A few friends are coming over for dinner tonight. (friends = countable noun)
I’ve got a few ideas for the project. (ideas = countable noun)
Common mistakes to avoid while using «little» and «few»
One common mistake is using «few» or «a few» with uncountable nouns and «little» or «a little» with countable nouns. Remember that «few» and «a few» go with countable nouns, while «little» and «a little» are for uncountable nouns.
- Incorrect: «I have a few milk left.»
- Correct: «I have a little milk left.»
«Milk» is an uncountable noun, so we should use «a little» instead of «a few».
- Incorrect: «There is little students in the classroom.»
- Correct: «There are few students in the classroom.»
«Students» are a countable noun, so we should use «few» instead of «little».
- Incorrect: «She has few patience for such nonsense.»
- Correct: «She has little patience for such nonsense.»
«Patience» is an uncountable noun, so we should use «little» instead of «few».
- Incorrect: «He showed little errors in his work.»
- Correct: «He showed few errors in his work.»
«Errors» are a countable noun, so we should use «few» instead of «little».
Another mistake is thinking that «little», «a little», «few», and «a few» all mean the same. While they all refer to small amounts, «little» and «few» often imply a negative connotation (not enough), whereas «a little» and «a few» are more positive (small but enough).
Negative connotation with «little» and «few»:
- «He has little respect for his teachers.» – This implies that he doesn’t have enough respect, which is a negative thing.
- «Few students passed the difficult exam.» – This implies that not many students passed, indicating a negative situation.
Positive connotation with «a little» and «a few»:
- «She speaks a little Spanish.» – Even though she doesn’t speak much Spanish, the fact that she can speak some is positive.
- «A few of my friends are coming to the party.» – Although it’s not many friends, it’s still a positive thing that some friends are coming.
I hope these examples help you understand the difference and avoid these common mistakes.
Few vs Little (PDF)
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While the differences between «little», «a little», «few», and «a few» may seem subtle, understanding them will significantly improve your English fluency. Keep practicing using them in sentences, and soon, distinguishing between these words will become second nature.
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I’ll see you in the next post. Until then, don’t forget to keep smiling!