(A) few, (a) little

Only some students hand in their homework on time.

Indonesian flag Elsewhere on GuruEAP we’ve looked at alternatives to ‘some’, which tends to be overused by Indonesians translating from ‘beberapa’, or, in the example above – ‘hanya beberapa’.

In this post we look at other alternatives to ‘some’ that are especially problematic for Indonesians because they are awkward to translate: few, a few, little, and a little.

As with all quantifiers, we need to begin by deciding whether the noun we’re quantifying is countable or uncountable.

(a) few + countable noun

Look at these two statements made by a teacher featuring the countable noun ‘student’:

  1. Few students hand in their homework on time.
  2. A few students forgot to hand in their homework.

Now answer these questions based on examples A & B:

  1. Which statement implies ‘not enough’?
  2. Which statement implies ‘some’?
  3. Which situation is most disappointing for the teacher?

  1. A. Few means ‘not enough’.
  2. B. A few means ‘some’.
  3. A. Few tends to be negative.

(a) little + uncountable noun

Now look at these two statements made by a student featuring the uncountable noun ‘time’:

  1. We had little time to prepare for the test. That’s why our grades are low!
  2. The teacher gave us a little time to prepare before the test. That’s why nobody failed!

Now answer these questions based on examples C & D:

  • Which statement implies ‘not enough’?
  • Which statement implies ‘some’?
  • Which situation is disappointing for the students?

  1. A. Little means ‘not enough’.
  2. B. A little means ‘some’.
  3. A. Little tends to be negative.

Practice!

Remember to read the instructions carefully before you begin! ×
Select words from the drop-down menus to complete the text. When you have finished, click 'Check your answers!' for feedback.

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Answer Key

Answers here, but only if you're really stuck!

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