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A Few/Few – a Little/Little

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A few and few are used with plural count-nouns. A little and little are used with non-count nouns.
It is useful to remember which nouns are ‘count’ (countable) and ‘non-count’ (uncountable) first:

Countable and uncountable nouns

Countable nouns or ‘count’ nouns are those nouns that can be counted:
An apple, two apples etc.

Uncountable nouns or ‘non-count’ nouns are those nouns that cannot be counted: water, bread etc. Uncountable nouns take a singular verb and are not used with a/an.

Uncountable nouns can be divided into different groups:
Mass nouns: fruit juice, butter, sugar, rice, sand, etc.
Study subjects: physics, chemistry, mathematics (maths), history etc.
Sports: football, rugby, basketball etc.
Languages: English, Italian, Dutch, Arabic etc.
Diseases: influenza, malaria, asthma etc.
Natural phenomena: rain, snow, mist etc.
Collective nouns: money, baggage, furniture, etc.
other nouns: information, accommodation, anger, luck, love, etc.

A few means not many but enough.
We had a few hours left before we had to be at the airport so we went for a last swim.
A few is used with too to mean just slightly more than enough.
However ‘only a few’ can mean not enough.
There were only a few people interested in the excursion so it was cancelled.

Few means hardly any and usually has a negative meaning. It is also used for emphasis with very.
Very few people enjoyed the film despite the stars who act in it.

A little means not much but enough.
There’s a little sugar left so do you still want a cup of coffee?
A little is used with too to mean slightly more than enough.
Little means hardly any almost none and usually has a negative meaning. It is also used for emphasis with very.
There’s very little time before the show starts. I don’t think we have time for a coffee.

Lesson by EC Malta teacher Tristan, Learn English in Malta

Choose the right word/phrase for the following:

  • 1) We spent ___ days sailing along the Dalmatian coast. It was amazing.

  • 2) Winter in Paris is just ___ too hot for me. I prefer going in spring.

  • 3) I had very ___ time to get home and get ready for the party. I had so much to do at the office.

  • 4) When I went to the post office there were very ___ people there. That's why I went early.

  • 5) My boss is really tough. I think I've seen him smile just ___ times in the ten years I've been there.

  • 6) Unfortunately very ___ people in Rome speak English.

  • 7) I love travelling but at the moment I only have ___ days off each year.

  • 8) I see ___ reason in accepting the proposals. The ideas were unoriginal to say the least.