Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody. My name is Alisha. In this lesson, I'm going to talk about using "a little" and "little," and "a few" and "few." I'm going to talk about the little differences in using an article and not using an article with these words. So, let's get started.
Okay. First, I want to look at "a little" versus "little." Before we talk about using this article, I want to mention, we use "little" or "a little" with uncountable nouns, nouns that we cannot count. If you're not sure about countable or uncountable nouns, please take a look at the videos on our channel. There are a few example videos, a few other videos you can check to learn more about countable and uncountable nouns. So, we use "little" with uncountable nouns, nouns that we cannot count. We use "a little" to mean simply a small amount of the noun.
Using "a little" has a very neutral feel. Neutral means it's not positive, it's not negative, it's very neutral, very flat. Depending on the speaker's intonation, it could be a little bit positive. It could have a positive feel about it. That, you'll just have to listen to the person speaking, or to think about the situation. You need to do that. But in most cases, it's just very neutral. There's nothing positive, nothing negative. Then "little." No article here, you'll notice. No article, "little" means only a small amount of the noun, only a small amount.
Here, we have a negative feel. Oftentimes, we have a very negative feel, like there's only a small amount of something, and that's bad, and that makes a problem. We use no article to communicate this only feeling, like this only and that's too bad sort of idea. So, let's look at an example of this. First, "We have a little time," and, "We have little time." First, "time" is an uncountable noun, so we're using "little" there. But we see, "We have a little time," like, "We have a little time to finish this project," for example. Showing with "a little" here, or rather, by using "a little" here, we're communicating a very neutral point. Just a simple fact. "We have a little time." Or maybe if I'm excited about something, I could say, "Well, we have a little time. We can do something extra for the project." Then it feels a little bit more positive.
However, in the second sentence, "We have little time." That's usually the intonation we use. "We have little time." That sounds like there's very little time. There's only a little time. That's another way to say that, but, "We have little time" sounds like perhaps there's not enough time or the deadline is quickly approaching. "There's not much time" would be another way to say that. It has a negative feel about it. I'm going to save this example sentence, this pair for a little bit later because there's another point I'd like to make. But let's keep in mind that this use of the article communicates a simple fact and no article communicates a negative.
Okay. Let's look at this same idea with "a few" and "few." We talked about using "little" and "a little" with uncountable nouns. "Few" and "a few" are used with countable nouns, nouns that we can count with one, two, three, and so on. Just as with "a little" and "little," "a few" communicates a small number of the noun, and it's just a general neutral kind of fact statement. There's no positive, no negative, unless the speaker chooses to create some feeling, like they use their voice to make the situation or to make the statement sound more positive. We can use "a few" to do that. Using no article creates this negative feeling. Using "few" means only a number of the nouns. There's that negative feel again there. Only a small number, like there's not enough of something or it's too bad. Something negative perhaps has happened.
So, let's take a look at an example that uses "few" and "a few." First, "He gave us a few ideas." You'll notice, yes, "a few" with the article here. And don't forget your "s." This is a countable noun idea. We need to use the plural form. "A few ideas." "He gave us a few ideas," a general fact, just a simple statement. Or, if I'm excited, I could say, "He gave us a few ideas," like I sound happy, I sound positive about that. If, however, maybe I had some expectation, like this was a really creative person, I expected lots and lots and lots of ideas but he didn't give us a lot of ideas. I want to communicate that. I can say, "He gave us few ideas." We keep this "ideas" in the plural form. The only change is no article in front of "few." "He gave us few ideas." This shows that we maybe had some expectation or we hoped for something different. "He gave us few ideas and that's bad or that's a negative thing." When we want to communicate this using "few" or "little," we use an article or no article to change the feeling, to change the nuance of the sentence.
Okay. I want to continue by looking at these last pairs of example sentences here. I explained in both of these cases that using no article creates a negative feel, in most situations, I would say. However, if you're dealing with the situation where your noun is a bad thing, I've made a note here, if the noun in your sentence refers to something bad or to something negative, then the feeling actually changes. The feeling becomes positive when you use no article.
Let's look at this example sentence first, or this pair rather. In this case, my noun is "pollution." "Pollution" means like a dirty environment, like dirty water, dirty air, some kind of environment-related problems. "Pollution" is a bad thing, in most cases, I think. "Pollution" is a bad thing. If I want to make a sentence using "little" or "a little" because pollution is an uncountable noun, I could say, "The city has a little pollution." That's a statement of fact. "The city has a little pollution." Yes. If I use no article here though, "The city has little pollution," actually, that's a good thing. We're saying, "There's only a little of this." Because pollution is a bad thing, using "little" shows there's not a large amount of this bad thing, and that means it's good. If this noun is something that's negative or that's not good, then using no article is going to create a more positive meaning there.
Let's look at one more example. Same idea, just a different noun and a different word here, "few." Let's look at this countable noun, "problem." "Problem" is a bad thing, a negative thing in many cases. A problem is something we don't want. "First, "We have a few problems." Again, just a simple statement of fact. I'm probably not happy about that. I would not say, "We have a few problems." I would say, "We have a few problems." There's a negative feel with this, actually. Same thing over here as well. Second though, "We have few problems." This means only a small number of this thing, this bad noun in this case. Because there are few, a small number of these problems, this sentence expresses a good situation. "We have few problems." That's a good thing.
So, in cases where your noun is referring to something that's not good, you can actually change the meaning if you do not use the article in front of "little" or "few." Keep that in mind. That's just kind of an exception. In most cases though, you'll see it used as I talked about in the beginning. In most cases, it follows this rule, this negative feel. But just pay attention to the noun that "little" or "few" is modifying, and you can understand, should it be negative feel or a positive feel?
Okay. This is an introduction or a quick lesson on the differences between "a little" and "little," and "few" and "a few." I hope that it was helpful for you. If you have any questions or comments, or if you want to practice making some example sentences in the comments section, please feel free to do so. Thanks very much for watching this lesson and I will see you again soon. Bye-bye.


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EnglishClass101.com Verified
Friday at 01:43 PM
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Hi there Gerard and Mukti,

Thanks for getting in touch!

The words 'little' and 'few' are quantifier words meaning 'some.' They are generally used when you would like to show a quantity that was less than the desired amount.

What Alisha is saying is most of the time, using 'little' or 'few' is showing a quantity that is undesirable, unless you have a negative noun e.g. pollution. If the nouns are negative and you use 'little' or 'few' to describe how much there is, it can change to become a positive. Using no article creates a negative feel most of the time.

I hope this is helpful to you! ๐Ÿ˜„



Team EnglishClass101.com

Wednesday at 12:38 AM
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Hello Alisha

I try to understand your lessons, sometimes this is difficult

As this one of today

You said "little" and "few" can be used in negatives sentences.

But the two examples ...pollution and problems. In this case, it is a positive sens

Because the nouns are negatives in themselves ??

Have a nice day

EnglishClass101.com Verified
Tuesday at 06:30 PM
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Please let us know if you have any questions.

Mukti Prakash Datta
Thursday at 03:28 AM
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