Quantifiers: 'few', 'a few', 'little' and 'a bit of'

Quantifiers: 'few', 'a few', 'little' and 'a bit of'

Do you know how to use a few, few, very little and a bit of? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how these quantifiers are used with countable and uncountable nouns.

I have a few friends, so I'm not lonely.
She has few friends, so she's quite lonely.
We've got a bit of time before our train. Shall we get a coffee?
We've got very little time before our train. Hurry up!

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Countable and uncountable nouns 2: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

A few and a bit of or a little mean some. Often we feel this amount is enough or more than we expected. We use a few with plural nouns and a bit of or a little with uncountable nouns.

I have a few ideas.
I've brought a few friends.
There's a bit of milk left.
It needs a little more work.

We use few and very little to show that we are talking about a small amount. Often we feel this amount is not enough or less than we expected. Few is for countable nouns and very little is for uncountable nouns.

Few people came to the meeting.
There are few places where you can still see these birds.
We have very little time.
I have very little money.

Note that you can use little without very, but it is less common and sounds quite formal.

She had little water.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Countable and uncountable nouns 2: Grammar test 2

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Submitted by Eline Maro on Wed, 10/01/2024 - 13:45

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I would like to appreciate to every one who contributed on this topic. I have leant a lot

Submitted by Long Khanh on Sat, 09/09/2023 - 04:10

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Dear The LearnEnglish Team,
May I know the difference of "a few" and "some".
Thank you.

Hello Long Khanh,

In terms of grammar, 'a lot of' can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns, while 'a few' can only be used with countable; 'a little' is the equivalent for uncountable nouns.

In terms of meaning, I think they are very close and any differences would be context dependent. 'A few' usually suggests that the amount is satisfactory or sufficient for some purpose. For example, if I said 'I have a few hours free today' it would imply that I can do something (go for a coffee with you, finish a task etc). 'Some' is a little more neutral, I would suggest. However, as I said, these are context-dependent nuances.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your prompt reply. Is it true that “a few” generally indicates a number or a figure of five or less. On the other hand, “some” indicates a larger quantity that ranges between five and ten?

Hello again Long Khanh,

I don't think there is any fixed rule about this. The choice of quantifiers like this is really a question of how the speaker sees the situation rather than a particular number of items. For example, both 'some' and 'a few' could be used in this kind of situation:

Customer: I need a dozen boxes of paper for photocopying, please.

Shop owner: A dozen, huh? Well, I've got some some / a few in the storeroom but we'll have to check if we have enough.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by marjikjikjik on Sun, 30/04/2023 - 10:02

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Hi
Why in this sentence a few is correct?no few
The doctors told me to rest for a few days
Thsnks

Hi marjikjikjik,

"A few" and "few" have different meanings. "A few" has a generally positive meaning, and "few" has a generally negative meaning. For example:

  • "I have a few friends" - this means I have enough friends, or I have some friends.
  • "I have few friends" - this means I have not many friends, or not enough friends.

In the example you mentioned, it should be "a few days" because the meaning is "some days" or "enough days".

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi amlan1234,

"Few" means a small number. It's often understood to mean 2 or 3. But it depends on the situation. For example, if I say There were a few people in the square, it may mean that the square was a little bit full of people (e.g. 10 or 20 people), or if I say I have a few coins in my pocket, it could mean four or five coins. The point is that "few" means a small number, relative to the situation. It does not refer to an exact number.

As explained above, "few" has a negative meaning and "a few" has a positive meaning. It's a bit like describing a glass of water as half empty (negative meaning) or half full (positive meaning) - the quantity of water is the same, but the point of view is different. For example:

  • I have few coins in my pocket. (negative meaning = I don't have enough)
  • I have a few coins in my pocket. (positive meaning = I have enough).

I hope that helps to clarify the meaning.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by g-ssan on Sun, 06/11/2022 - 17:04

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Hello sir ,
What is the rule to difference between a few and few ?
It’s the example eight in first exercise .