A few, a little

Lesson 9. What’s the difference between "a few" and "a little"? This lesson shows you. Also explores the difference between “a few” and “few” and “a little” and “little”. Essential knowledge.

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  Video Exercise 1

Articles - A, An, The - Exs 1 & 2  Quantity - Revision PDF

A few, a little - PDF  PDF Handout



Lesson transcript


Welcome back, and this is the final lesson on quantity in English.

And we're going to look at 'a few' and 'a little'.

Just like the last two lessons we're going to check if 'a few' and 'a little' work with 'countables' and 'uncountables' and also positive, question and negative sentences.

We'll look at the difference between 'a few' and 'few' and 'a little' and 'little'.

So here is the table that we're going to complete during this lesson. As you can see, we have 'a few' and 'a little' and we have boxes to see if they work with countables or uncountables, and boxes to see if they work with positive statements, questions and negatives.


So let's start with 'a few' and the first question is – does it work with countables or uncountables? For example, can we say 'a few apples' – 'apples' being countable plural?

And the answer is yes we can – 'a few' is fine with countable plurals. How about 'a few bread' – 'bread' being uncountable?

Does this work? The answer is no it doesn't. Uncountable does not work with 'a few'. So, 'a few' works with countable plurals – 'a few apples' – only.


Let's now look at 'a little'. Does this work with countables or uncountables?

For example, can we say 'a little apples' in the countable plural? The answer is no we can't. 'Little' does not work with countable plural.

How about 'a little bread' with the uncountable being 'bread' – does this work?

The answer is yes it does. 'A little' is fine with uncountables.

So, 'little' works with uncountables only –  so 'a few' for countable plurals – 'a few apples' – and 'a little' for uncountables – 'a little bread'.


Let's now look at how 'a few' and 'a little' work with positive, question and negative sentences.

Starting with 'a few' let's have a look at three example sentences in the positive, the question and the negative.

First sentence – 'I've bought a few apples' – does this work in the positive?

The answer is yes, it does. 'A few' is fine with positive statements.

How about in the question – can we say 'would you like a few apples?' – does this work?

The answer is yes it does. 'A few' is fine with question sentences.

And finally, in the negative, can we say 'I don't have a few apples'?

The answer is no it doesn't. 'A few' does not work with negatives. Instead of 'a few' here we would use 'any' or 'many' – so 'I don't have any apples' or 'I don't have many apples'.

Let's complete our table for 'a few'.

So, in the positive statement 'a few' is fine. It's also correct with questions but in negatives 'a few' does not work. Instead, we should use 'any' or 'many'.


So that's 'a few' – let's now turn to 'a little'.

Does this work with positive, question and negative sentences?

Three more sentences – the first in the positive – 'I've bought a little bread' does this work?

The answer is yes it does. 'A little' is fine with the positive. Next, in the question, can we say 'would you like a little bread?'.

And the answer is yes we can. 'Little' is fine with questions. And finally, can we use 'a little' with negatives? For example 'I don't have a little bread'.

The answer is no we can't in the negative. Instead of 'a little' we should use 'any' or 'much'.

So let's now finalise our table. 'A little' with positive statements is fine. It's also fine in questions but it doesn't work in negatives.

Instead, we should use any or much. So, one final summary. We use 'a few' with countable plurals – 'a few apples' – and we use 'a little' with uncountables – so 'little bread'.

We can use 'a few' and 'a little' in the positive and in question sentences.

We can use neither 'a few' or 'a little' in negatives. In the negative, instead of 'a few' we should use 'any' or 'many', and instead of 'a little' we should use 'any' or 'much'.


Now, before we finish I want to say something about 'few' and 'little' – as opposed to '[a] few' and '[a] little'.

Now, for 'a few' and 'few' let's have some example sentences.

First one, 'There are a few nice pubs in this area' – and 'There are few nice pubs in this area'. Obviously there is an 'a' missing in the second sentence but what's the difference in meaning?

Well, when we say 'a few' nice pubs we are talking about three or four pubs so it's a positive sentence.

Whereas if we say 'few' nice pubs without 'a', the meaning is 'not many pubs' – so it's a negative sentence.

Let's have a look at 'a little' and 'little'. 'I have a little time if you need me' and 'I'm afraid I have little time'.

What's the difference in meaning? Well, in the first sentence 'a little' we are talking about some time or a small amount of time – it's a positive sentence.

Whereas if I say 'I'm afraid I have little time', the meaning is I have not much time so it's a negative sentence.

So, to summarise, when we say 'few' and 'little' – 'few' means 'not many' and 'little' means 'not much'.


So that's the end of our lesson. Here is the PDF for you to download, and as you can see it has some example sentences to help.

There is also a note about 'few' and 'little' which we just talked about.

So that's the end of the section on quantity in English. Join me now for the practice exercises which are on all types of quantity that we've looked at, so: 'some', 'any', 'many', 'much' and 'a lot of', 'a few' and 'a little'.

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INDEX:
Nouns: Countables, Uncountables (1)
Articles (2)
(3) | (Zero Article 4) | The: Special Uses (5)
There is, there are (6)
Quantity: Some, Any (7) | Many, Much, A lot of (8) | A few, a little (9)
Prepositions of time: In, On, At (10)
The Present: Present Simple (11) | Present Continuous (12)
The Past: Past Simple (13) | Past Continuous (14) | Present Perfect (15)
Irregular Verbs (16)
The Future: Future Simple (17) | Future Plans (18)
Phrasal Verbs (19) (20)



     Countable and uncountable nouns 

     Countable and Uncountable
     Nouns
     Learn the two key rules

    
     "The": Special Uses
 
      "The": Special Uses
      10 special uses of 'the' here

   
     Phrasal Verbs - Part 1 

     Phrasal Verbs Part 1
     Each example with a picture

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