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What is the difference between "little, few, a little and a few"?

Are "little and few" synonyms?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

'Few' is mainly used when talking about the number of 'count nouns', such as 'dogs'. You can say

Few dogs make good friends with cats!

to mean that not many dogs make good friends with cats. But if you said

Little dogs make good friends with cats!

this would suggest that dogs that are small (cat-sized, perhaps?) make good friends with cats.

On the other hand, 'little' is used when talking about the amount of 'mass nouns', such as 'water'.

There was a flood, but little water actually got into the house.

means that not a lot of water got into the house (thank goodness!). On the other hand,

There was a flood, but few water actually got into the house.

is not a valid sentence.

Sometimes you can use either to produce equivalent sentences, but usually 'few' will precede a plural noun and 'little' will proceed a singular (mass) noun. For example:

John had little reason to dislike Jim.

Jim had few reasons to dislike John.

Both of these sentences mean that they haven't given the other much cause to dislike them.

A little and a few both mean some, but the above rules still apply here. So you would say a few dogs and a little water, but not a little dogs or a few water (which aren't valid sentences).

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You might want to include in your answer the difference between "few" and "a few", "little" and "a little". –  fluffy Aug 18 at 13:11
    
Good answer. +1 for the first example sentence :) –  Maulik V Aug 19 at 4:50

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