A Few/A Little. Both a little and a few are quantifiers and pronouns that refer to some. Their negative definition is not as much as expected or desired.
Rules for “A Little”
Use a little as a quantifier when referring to singular uncountable nouns. This quantifier implies that something exists or occurs at a small degree or amount. Here are some sentence examples.
- I had a little bread for breakfast today.
- Phillip has little money left in his bank account.
- Kate has a little extra time this morning to tour you around the city.
- Myra enjoys her coffee with a little sugar and cream.
As a pronoun, a little can be a replacement for a noun that may be explicitly or implicitly mentioned in the sentence. Here are some examples.
- Only a little is known about his life.
- I have very little, but I’m willing to share.
Rules for “A Few”
Few is a quantifier used with plural countable nouns. The quantifier indicates that there are only some objects or people. Consider these sentence examples.
- I have a few companions in Scotland.
- Lea has a few toys left from her childhood.
- We have a few tasks left on the list.
- There were a few people standing outside their houses.
- Can the man buy a few oranges for us?
As a pronoun, a few can be a replacement for a noun that may be explicitly or implicitly mentioned in the sentence. Here are some examples.
- I didn’t take all the flowers. Only a few.
- Many have tried reaching out to Timothy. However, only a few have succeeded.
When Not to Use “A” with Few and Little
There are some occurrences when you don’t need the a in front of few or little such as when they’re uncountable nouns used in a negative way or when talking about size. Here are some examples.
- I have few people I trust (meaning, they have very little people they trust)
- The puppy is so little. (meaning, the puppy is small in size)
A Little and A Few: A Recap
Learning the grammar rules of a little and a few can be confusing. But I hope this guide taught you the differences in their use. Remember that:
- A little is a quantifier or pronoun used for uncountable nouns.
- A few is a quantifier used for plural and countable nouns.
Take the test below to see if you’ve mastered the two English quantifiers.