Quantifiers – Some rules of thumb on the use of little, a little, few and a few.
LITTLE : only used with UNCOUNTABLE nouns, synonym for hardly any, not much
e.g. Look at the sky, there is little hope for bright and sunny weather tomorrow.
A LITTLE:only used with UNCOUNTABLE nouns, synonym for a small amount, some
e.g. Is there ? The weather forecast says there is still a little hope.
FEW: with COUNTABLE nouns, synonym for hardly any, not many
e.g. Few people attended the meeting. I counted only 4.
A FEW: with COUNTABLE nouns, synonym for a small number, some
e.g. A few people asked me how I felt. That was nice.
Quantifiers with countable
and uncountable nouns
Adjectives and adjectival phrases that describe quantity are shown below. Some can only go with countable nouns (friends, cups, people), and some can only go with uncountable nouns (sugar, tea, money, advice). The words in the middle column can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.
uncountable nouns With uncountable
and countable nouns Only with
How much? How much? or How many? How many?
a little no/none a few
a bit (of) not any a number (of)
– some (any) several
a great deal of a lot of a large number of
a large amount of plenty of a great number of
– lots of –
Note: much and many are used in negative and question forms.
• How much money have you got?
• How many cigarettes have you smoked?
• There’s not much sugar in the cupboard.
• There weren’t many people at the concert.
They are also used with too, (not) so, and (not) as :There were too many people at the concert – we couldn’t see the band.
It’s a problem when there are so many people.
There’s not so much work to do this week.
In positive statements, we use a lot of:
• I’ve got a lot of work this week.
• There were a lot of people at the concert.
A few and few, a little and little
These expressions show the speaker’s attitude towards the quantity he/she is referring to.
A few (for countable nouns) and a little (for uncountable nouns) describe the quantity in a positive way:
• „I’ve got a few friends“ (= maybe not many, but enough)
• „I’ve got a little money“ (= I’ve got enough to live on)
Few and little describe the quantity in a negative way:
• Few people visited him in hospital (= he had almost no visitors)
• He had little money (= almost no money)
Some and Any
Some and any are used with countable and uncountable nouns, to describe an indefinite or incomplete quantity.
Some is used in positive statements:
• I had some rice for lunch
• He’s got some books from the library.
It is also used in questions where we are sure about the answer:
• Did he give you some tea? (= I’m sure he did.)
• Is there some fruit juice in the fridge? (= I think there is)
Some is used in situations where the question is not a request for information, but a method of making a request, encouraging or giving an invitation:
• Could I have some books, please?
• Why don’t you take some books home with you?
• Would you like some books?
Any is used in questions and with not in negative statements:
• Have you got any tea?
• He didn’t give me any tea.
• I don’t think we’ve got any coffee left.
SOME in positive sentences.
a. I will have some news next week.
b. She has some valuable books in her house.
c. Philip wants some help with his exams.
d. There is some butter in the fridge.
e. We need some cheese if we want to make a fondue.
SOME in questions:
a. Would you like some help?
b. Will you have some more roast beef?
ANY in negative sentences
a. She doesn’t want any kitchen appliances for Christmas.
b. They don’t want any help moving to their new house.
c. No, thank you. I don’t want any more cake.
d. There isn’t any reason to complain.
ANY in interrogative sentences
a. Do you have any friends in London?
b. Have they got any children?
c. Do you want any groceries from the shop?
d. Are there any problems with your work?
Compound nouns made with SOME, ANY and NO
Some + -thing -body -one -where
Compound nouns with some- and any- are used in the same way as some and any.
• Someone is sleeping in my bed.
• He saw something in the garden.
• I left my glasses somewhere in the house.
• Are you looking for someone? (= I’m sure you are)
• Have you lost something? (= I’m sure you have)
• Is there anything to eat? (real question)
• Did you go anywhere last night?