“A Little” vs “Little” vs “A Few” vs “Few”

A Little
Use a little with uncountable nouns, e.g. a little help, a little progress, a little information, a little advice, etc.

A Few
Use a few with plural countable nouns, e.g. a few days, a few meetings, a few employees, a few sales, etc.

Little and Few
Little and few tend to be rather negative because they mean not much or not many, while a little and a few are more positive and mean some. For example

X We have few clients. (sounds negative)
We have a few clients. (sounds more positive)

X There is little time to complete this. (sounds negative)
We have a little time to complete this. (sounds more positive)

When you are speaking to someone, it is better to use not much/not many or only a little/few instead of little and few. Little and few tend to sound more formal and are better used in writing. For example:

We haven’t had many enquiries about our new product. (not many/informal/spoken)
We have had few enquiries about our new product. (few/formal/written)
We haven’t sold many properties in the past month. (not any/informal/spoken)
We have sold few properties in the past month. (few/formal/written)

Practice Exercise

Complete the following sentences using “a little,” “little,” “a few,” “few,” “not many,” or “not much.”

  1. Despite living in Beijing for many years, I speak _________________ Putonghua. (FORMAL)
  2. We have only lived here for two weeks but we already know _________________ words of Cantonese. (FORMAL)
  3. Poor Richard, he _________________ friends (CONVERSATIONAL)
  4. We have _________________ time to browse the Internet at work. (FORMAL)
  5. “So you don’t like Malaysian food?” “No, _________________.” (CONVERSATIONAL)
  6. I’m afraid I _________________ information on that subject. (CONVERSATIONAL)
  7. You have _________________ chance of success, to be honest. (NEGATIVE)
  8. There are _________________ people I’d like to introduce you to. (POSITIVE)

Answers

  1. Despite living in Beijing for many years, I speak little Putonghua. (FORMAL)
  2. We have only lived here for two weeks but we already know a few words of Cantonese. (FORMAL)
  3. Poor Richard, he doesn’t have many friends (CONVERSATIONAL)
  4. We have little time to browse the Internet at work. (FORMAL)
  5. “So you don’t like Malaysian food?” “No, not much.” (CONVERSATIONAL)
  6. I’m afraid I don’t have much information on that subject. (CONVERSATIONAL)
  7. You have little chance of success, to be honest. (NEGATIVE)
  8. There are a few people I’d like to introduce you to. (POSITIVE)

Contributed by Workplace English Training E-Platform