When to use “a little” and “a few”: English Grammar Rules

When to use “a little” and “a few”: English Grammar Rules

In this full tutorial learners are going to learn the English grammar rules for when to use “a few’ and “a little”. “a few and “a little” are both determiners and they both mean a small quantity of something.

Before we proceed watch the video here:

Let’s look at a situation where we are describing a small quantity of something.

The first thing that we should look at is, all of these nouns, they are countable nouns.

A countable noun is a noun that it’s a separate object, we can count a countable noun.

Countable nouns can exist in a singular or a plural.

Here of course (apples, watermelons, bananas) they are in the plural so the structure is:

We say there are a few apples, so with countable nouns we only use the word “a few” and since we are talking about the plural then the noun must be in the plural form, and the verb must be in the plural form, so we say “there are”. This gives us our first rule.

 We use “a few” to describe a small quantity of a countable noun.

Describing a small quantity 2

This time all of the nouns in the given sentences above are uncountable nouns.

We cannot count uncountable nouns. They are not separate objects. Often, they are large mass of something or they are often a liquid and they exist only in singular.

 When we have an uncountable noun we must only use “a little”, we do not use

a few” and since an uncountable noun can only be singular then the verb is singular.

So, we say “There is a little water”. We do not say “There are a little water” and the noun stays in the singular form.

So, the rule is, we only use “a little” to describe a small quantity of an uncountable noun.

We do not use “a little” to describe a small quantity with a countable noun, and just something else which is very important is; “a little” – we are not talking about the size, we are not talking about the size of the water for example, but we are talking about the small quantity because little is also an adjective, but here we are not using it to describe the size, we are using a little to describe a small quantity of an uncountable  noun.

Summary:

These two rules are easy:

Use a little for non-countable nouns (e.g., sauce, time, water).

Use a few if the noun is countable (e.g., jars of jam, students, chairs, apples). 

 It’s easy to know when to use “a little” and when to use “a few” if we know the difference between an uncountable noun and countable noun.

When you learn a new noun, you must also learn if it is countable or uncountable.

Exercise:

Choose A LITTLE or A FEW and write on the space to complete the sentence.

A.

1. I have ______________ meat left in the fridge.

2. There is ______________milk in the glass.

3. He drank_____________ wine yesterday.

4. They saw _____________ people inside the restaurant.

5. I need _____________ pens to give to the students.

6. Can I have_____________ bread, please?

7. There are only _____________students left in the classroom.

8. John has _____________ books in his backpack.

B.

1. There’s ______________rice in the fridge if you get hungry.

2. I borrowed _____________movies from my friend.

3. She usually eats _____________ things in the morning.

4. Just write _____________ pages for me, will you?

5. There are _____________ toys in the basket.

6. I have _____________ work to do tonight.

7. I invited only _____________ friends for my birthday.

Answers:

A                                             B

1. a little                                 1. a little

2. a little                                 2. a few

3. a little                                 3. a few

4. a few                                  4. a few

5. a few                                  5. a few

6. a little                                 6. a little

7. a few                                  7. a few

8. a few

Downloadable Material

Here’s the downloadable material of Tutorial on when to use a little and a few english grammar rules here.

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