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A Few vs. Few and A Little vs. Little

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Common mistakes

  1. (NG) I enjoyed the party because few of my friends were there.
    1. (OK) I enjoyed the party because a few of my friends were there.
  2. (NG) When there was a typhoon, little people came to the office.
    1. (OK) When there was a typhoon, few people came to the office.

Grammar words and phrases in context

Robert is a new salesperson. A few of his customers came from his predecessor so they have been our company’s customers for a long time. However, Rob has few customers that he has gotten on his own. The boss said it will probably take him a little time before he can establish his own customer base. I hope things improve for him because there is little time before his first annual review.

Few and Little: The basics

We use few before plural countable nouns, like few pens or few chairs. We use little before non‐countable nouns, like little water or little time. That’s the basic grammar rule and form.

A Few and A Little

A few and a little have a positive nuance. Using “a” before few and little shows that there is a small amount, but we’re satisfied with that amount.

  1. I have a few friends who are English teachers.
  2. There are a few peaches in the fridge. Why don’t you try one?
  3. There is a little milk left in the fridge, so it’s enough for a bowl of cereal.
  4. I have a little free time, so I’m going shopping before work.

Few and Little

On the other hand, few and little (without a) have a negative nuance. Using few and little without “a” shows that there is too small of an amount for what we think is best for the situation. Few and little (without a) indicate that the amount is not enough, and we’re not satisfied with that.

  1. Few people get the chance to meet a celebrity. That’s too bad.
  2. There are few pens left. We need to order some.
  3. There’s little time to prepare for the exam. I wish there was more.
  4. There’s little milk left in the fridge, so it’s not enough for a bowl of cereal.

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