Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody! My name is Alisha.
In this lesson, I'm going to talk about how to describe small amounts in English.
Let's get started.
Okay. I've broken this lesson into two parts. Something that's important to think about for this lesson is the difference between "countable nouns" and "uncountable nouns." If you don't know the difference, please take a look at the countable nouns and uncountable nouns videos on this channel.
To refresh you, a "countable noun" is a noun that we can count with numbers and that we can add an "S" to make a plural form too. An "uncountable noun," we cannot do this with. We cannot count uncountable nouns simply with 1, 2, 3, and adding an "S" at the end.
So, we need to divide nouns into these two groups because we need to use some slightly different expressions to talk about amounts.
Let's get started with countable nouns, first.
I have a few examples of how to use countable nouns and ways to describe amounts with words there.
So, for example - "a few," a few.
I just used the expression "a few examples." That was one example of how I can use this. So, "a few" refers to, yes, a small number of things, but "a few" generally is like more than 2, maybe 3, 4, or 5. So, a small number. That means it's not as much as 10, but, as we'll see in a moment, it's not as small as 2 or it's not as few as 2. So,
"a few" is kind of this in between less than 10 or fewer than 10, like refers to amounts of about that size.
For example:
"I have a few hours of free time."
So, in this sentence, we're using "a," don't forget this article, "a...few." This refers to quantity, "a few hours." When you're using a countable noun, you need to make sure you're using the plural form of the noun. So, not "I have a few hour." "I have a few hours of free time." "A few hours of free time." So, this means maybe 3 or 4 hours, perhaps. So, "a few," this is a very common one.
I mentioned, "a few" is higher than, is more than 2. When we're talking about "two of (something)," we typically use "a couple (of)," a couple of. If you don't want to say "two of (something)," you can use "a couple (of)." So, a good way to remember this is to remember the word "couple." We use "couples" for people who are in romantic relationships, two people, a couple.
So we use "a couple (of)" before our countable noun.
For example:
"Let's get a couple of drinks!"
Let's get a couple of drinks.
You may hear, sometimes, native speakers drop this "of."
"Let's get a couple drinks!"
Let's get a couple drinks.
You may hear both. You can use both. They're both fine to use.
Again, notice "S" at the end of "drinks" here. So, we're using a countable noun pattern. We need to make sure to use the countable noun in the plural form.
"Let's get a couple of drinks."
Not "Let's get a couple drink."
You need to use the plural form here. Don't forget this "S."
Moving on to the next expression. I said "a few" is used for something like more than two, probably 3, 4, 5, or so, and "a couple (of)" is used for maybe 2.
So, "a handful (of)" is the next one that's very commonly used.
"A handful (of)"
Let's break down this "hand" and "ful." A "hand" is literally one's hand, a person's hand. And "ful" meaning like your hand has lots and lots of something inside it. Your hand is full of something. So, if you can imagine this kind of thing, this idea, you can maybe get an idea of how this is a little bit larger than "a couple (of)." So if you use the image of a hand and you think of a couple as 2 fingers and a handful as 5 fingers, within 5 fingers could take, you can imagine "a handful" is probably larger than "a couple of" and if "a few" is also larger than "a couple of," "a handful" might also be a bit larger. So this could be maybe 5 or 6 or so of something. So you can imagine how much of something could I carry in one hand? This is kind of a helpful image for some people.
For example:
"He brought a handful of pens to the meeting."
He brought a handful of pens to the meeting.
In this case, it literally means a handful, like he gathered pens as many as he could gather in one hand and brought them to the meeting. So this doesn't always literally mean in one's hand. It can mean roughly 5 or 6 or just slightly more than a few, so you'll have to practice with these a little bit to find out for you, how like a few, how many a few is or how many a handful is?
Generally speaking, for me, I use "a few" for like 3 to 4, I use "a couple of" for 2 , and I use "a handful of" for like 5 to 7 or so. This is how I break it down. Maybe not everybody breaks it down in the same way, but this is the guideline that I tend to use.
So, let's compare this now to the uncountable nouns.
So, remember, we need to use countable nouns with an "S" when we're using these expressions of quantity. In contrast, something that's different here, when we use uncountable nouns, the noun does not take an "S." It's an uncountable noun. To remind you, some uncountable nouns are things like time, air, money, these things that we count with parts, we count in pieces, so let's keep this in mind.
The first expression for a small amount is "a little" or "a little (bit)."
A little or a little bit.
So, you can imagine this is similar to "a few," a few, in the countable nouns part.
A little bit
A little or a little bit.
As in:
"I need a little time to think."
I need a little time to think.
Here, I've used "a little" and no "bit." You can choose to use "bit." If you do use "bit," please keep in mind, you do need to use "of." I'll talk about this in a moment.
So, "a little" and "a little bit" really have the same meaning. We tend to use "bit" more perhaps in casual situations, a little bit. You might also hear native speakers extend this "little," to really emphasize how small something is.
"A little [enunciated] bit of time to think."
That sounds like just a moment perhaps or maybe just an hour. So, "a little time to think." Notice, as I said, "time" is an uncountable noun, there is no "S" at the end of this here .
"I need a little time to think" or "I need a little bit of time to think."
Let's move on to the next part. I have made this with the intention, with the aim of allowing you to substitute your own words here.
So, "a tiny bit of" and "a small piece of" are a couple of examples of a useful way to express small numbers of things with uncountable nouns. So, as I've said, when we're using uncountable nouns, we count them by using pieces. We break them down into smaller countable nouns that we can count. So what we sometimes do when we want to describe those amounts is use patterns like this and we substitute words like "bit" or "piece" for one of the countable nouns.
For example:
In "a tiny bit ofโ€ฆ," we can substitute or we can replace "bit" with a specific counter.
So, for example:
"a tiny piece of"
"a tiny part of"
"a tiny slice of"
"a tiny glass of"
"a tiny plate of"
So we use these small counter words after this adjective, like "tiny" or "small" and that helps us to communicate. So if we can't use, like one of these words, "tiny" or "small" because it's attached to an uncountable noun, we can talk about it in terms of the counter word.
So, for example:
"She ate a tiny piece of cake."
She ate a tiny piece of cake.
So, this is important. This counter word right here is important because if we say, "She ate a tiny cake," it sounds like that's one cake and it's a very small cake, a very, very small cake. It sounds a little strange.
So, if we say, "She ate a tiny piece of cake" or "a tiny slice of cake," it helps us to communicate more accurately. "Tiny" means very, very small, something so, so, so small. "Tiny:" is smaller than small, so if you want to communicate a very small size, use "tiny."
So "She ate a tiny piece of cake," in this case.
Again, "cake" is uncountable. Here, "piece" is a countable noun, yes, but we're using it in this sentence to talk about one only, one piece only, so there's no need to use the plural form. You could say, "She ate tiny pieces of cake," that's okay. In this case, we're using the singular form to refer to one piece.
Another example:
"They bought a small piece of land."
They bought a small piece of land.
"Land" is my uncountable noun. We don't count 1 land, 2 lands, 3 lands. We do not use it in this way. We can break lands into parts or pieces, a piece of land. Here, I've used a small piece of land. So when you're trying to describe amounts with uncountable nouns like these, try breaking it into smaller parts. Think about the counter word you can use and then attach an adjective like tiny or small, something like this to give your listener or your reader an idea of the size or the amount.
Okay. So with this in mind, I want to finish this lesson by looking at two words we can use for both countable and uncountable nouns, both.
So, these two words are "some" and "any."
"Some" and "any."
They follow the same rules for countable and uncountable nouns and they have very, like open feeling, especially "some."
So, to refresh you, "some" is used for positive statements, for requests, and offers.
For example, with the countable noun:
"We got you some snacks."
We got you some snacks.
So, if you want to express this idea quickly, easily, you're not worried about being very specific with a few or a couple or a handful, whatever, you can just say "some."
"We got you some snacks."
So, "some" is very useful for moments like this, just some. I don't really care exactly how many, just some.
Again, because this is a countable noun, we have to use the plural form here. "Snacks" is the plural form of "snack" (singular). So please make sure, if you are using a countable noun with "some," you attach the plural form of your noun.
So let's compare this then to using "some" with an uncountable noun.
"We brought you some wine!"
We brought you some wine!
Again, we're not concerned with is it like a tiny amount of wine? Is it like a small amount of wine? We're not concerned with being very specific here. We just want to express that something is here, like we just want to express like some kind of vague, open amount. We use "some" to do that.
And again, because wine is an uncountable noun, we do not use any plural form. We don't use an "S" at the end of this word.
"We brought you some wine."
We brought you some wine.
If, for example, you bring a few bottles of wine, you can say:
"We brought you some bottles of wine."
I suppose in very informal situations, "We brought you some wines to taste," that could be okay if we understand that it is several different bottles of wine.
Generally speaking, if you bring a bottle of wine to a party, it's like it's okay to say:
"We brought you some wine" or "We brought you a bottle of wine."
In this way, it's much more natural than saying "one wine" or something like that. So please keep this in mind if you're giving drinks or food, snacks, those sorts of things to other people.
Finally then, let's take a look at "any," any.
So "any," to refresh you, "any" is used in negative statements and in information questions, negative statements and information questions.
So, for this lesson, let's look at using "any" to make statements, so we have to use this in negative statements. We cannot use "any" in a positive statement. We use "some" for that.
We use "any" in a sentence like this for a countable noun:
"I don't want any cookies!"
I don't want any cookies.
So "any" is used before my countable noun, again, "cookies," so this is the plural form. In this, "cookies" is the plural form of cookie and we use "any" because "don't" (do not) is negative. "I do not want any cookies" is a negative statement. We cannot say, "I don't want some cookies." That would not be correct. "I don't want any cookies." This is a negative statement, we can use "any." So this means I want zero cookies in a positive sentence. We cannot use "any" in a positive sentence, but to make a positive sentence, this means "I want zero cookies." So I don't want any cookies, so you can use this to request that you not receive something, for example.
Let's compare this to the uncountable noun version then.
"Any" with an uncountable noun in a negative statement could be:
"I don't have any information."
I don't have any information.
"Information" is an uncountable noun. This "don't," again, do not, is my negative form. I don't have any information. Another way to say this sentence is "I have zero information." I have zero information, so I don't have any information. We cannot use "some" here. "I don't have some information" is incorrect.
If you want to make a positive sentence with either of these, great! Like "I want some cookies!" or "I have some information!" That's great! You can use both of those, but please keep in mind, "any" is used for negative statements only.
Okay. So, this is a quick introduction to using uncountable and countable nouns to express quantities, small quantities or small amounts of things. So I hope that this is helpful and please keep in mind, again, that it's very common to use counter words when you're talking about uncountable nouns.
So for some more information about countable and uncountable nouns, please take a look at the videos on the English Class 101 Channel. Thanks very much for watching this lesson and I will see you again soon! Bye-bye


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