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What are the differences among “little”, “few”, “a little” and “a few”?

Are “little” and “few” synonyms?

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2 Answers 2

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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2  
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

LITTLE

Few is used with countable nouns (nouns which can be counted), such as coin(s), sweet(s), and animal(s).

Little is used with uncountable nouns (nouns that cannot be counted), such as milk, time, and money.

Second:

FEW vs. A FEW

Few emphasises the lack of something.

There are few sweets left in the jar. (We should be careful not to eat them too quickly because they are almost gone.)

A few emphasises that something still remains.

We have a few minutes left in class. Do you have any questions? (We still have time so we should use it.)

LITTLE vs. A LITTLE

Little emphasises the lack of something.

We have little money right now. We should got out for dinner another time. (We should be careful and use the money wisely because there is not much).

A little emphasises that something still remains.

There's a little ice cream left; who will eat it? (There's not enough ice cream to save it or put it back in the freezer so it should be eaten.)

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