I would like to know the difference between saying "few" and "a few". Similarly "little" and "a little". In what context do these two separate expressions are used?
Few and little mean not many/much-- they are negative in connotation. I am sad because I have few friends.
A few and a little mean some-- they are positive in connotation. I just moved here, but I am happy because I have a few friends.
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What meaning does few convey when used with 'negative' nouns compared to a few?
I went to the denstist and he found few cavities.
I went to the denstist and he found a few cavities.
I went to the dentist and he found few cavities. Few = not many. My teeth are in relatively good condition.
I went to the dentist and he found a few cavities. A few = several. My teeth are in somewhat poor condition.
Additionaly, some notes on this subject. There is a important knowledge about quantifies, affirmative and negative statements, and question.
A few is used with countable nouns to show a small quantity. It is used in affirmative statements, but not negatives. We generally use any or questions. For example:
- I have a few books.
- I don't have a few books=
> This is incorrect.
- I don't have any books
> This is incorrect.==> This is correct.
- Do you have a few books?
Sometimes this is possibe, but generally speaking we use any for questions, for example "Do you have any books?"
A little is used with uncountable nouns to show a small quantity. Again, it is generally used in affirmative statements, not negatives or questions. For example:
- I have a little orange juice.
Negatives and Questions use "any" as usual.
- I don't have a little orange juice. =
> This is incorrect.=> This is incorrect
- I don't have any orange juice.
- Do you have a little orange juice?=
> This is incorrect.=> This is correct.
- Do you have any orange juice?
Anonymous:a few means :- small number . used for countable things such as boys,people.
e.g: There were only a few students in the class.
Few means :- no e.g There were few students in the class so the class could not start
a little:- used with uncountable things such as sugar.
e.g. there was a little sugar available in the house.so i could prepare only one cup of coffee.
little: no , e.g. there was little sugar in the house. so i could not prepare coffee.
Anonymous: Few- some
a few - some but not enough
I have a few apples.
I have a few apples but not enought to feed the horse.
Polite- I don't have any books> This is incorrect.Both sentences are fine.
- I don't have any orange juice.===> This is incorrect
To the original poster: Depending on your native language, it may help you understand and use little and few correctly if you bear in mind that you can nearly always place very before them without changing the meaning:
He has [very] few friends. He has [very] little money.
Very is incorrect before a few and a little.
Anonymous:'Few' means none, and 'a few' means one or more than one.
same applies to the usage of the word 'little'.
'I have little idea about what is going on.' This technically means 'I have NO idea'.
instead if the sentence is
'I have a little idea about what is going on' would mean 'I have SOME idea about what is going on'.
Hope this clear the doubt once and for all.