Little vs. Few

As you might have seen 'little and 'few' in English contexts a lot. let's take a look at them.

"Little" vs. "Few" in the English Grammar.

What Are Their Main Differences?

These two words are similar in meaning, but there are slight differences between them. 'Little' is used to refer to a singular uncountable noun, while 'few' is used to refer to a plural countable noun.


What They Refer to

  • 'Little':

refers to a small amount. By 'small amount' we mean 'almost nothing' or 'hardly any'*.

Little oil is left in the bottle.

Little private information was given to the police.

  • 'Few':

refers to a small number. It can mean hardly any or almost nothing.

Few cars are worth the price.

I postponed the party because just few were coming.

Countable or Uncountable Nouns?

  • 'Little':

is followed by a singular uncountable noun. Uncountable nouns are those that cannot be counted or get a number before them.

They were in little danger in the woods, because it was not dark and the wolves were sleeping.

Little rain has made the ground wet.

  • 'Few':

is followed by a plural countable noun. As a result, we cannot have the articles 'a' or 'an' after the term 'few'.

Few kings were cruel to their people in the past.

Few political issues are solved by the government.

Grammatical Functions

Besides their mutual grammatical functions 'little' can also be an adverb, while 'few' cannot. 'Little' as an adverb, it means 'a bit' or 'not much'.

He sounded little weird on the phone. (Not "He sounded few weird on the phone.)

The students have improved very little.


Grammatical Functions

  • 'Little':

As a determiner, it is used before nouns. 'little' as a pronoun, is used alone with no nouns directly after it. As an adjective, it is the synonym of 'small' and it is used before nouns.

She always pay little attention, that's why she never learns how to drive. → determiner

Little is known about the hidden policies of their acts. → pronoun

The oranges grow out of little blossoms. → adjective

  • 'Few':
  1. Determiner
  2. Pronoun
  3. Adjective

As you know, determiners are used before nouns. 'Few' as a pronoun is not immediately followed by a noun. 'Few' as an adjective means a number of and it is used before nouns.

She is only seven. She must have read few books. → determiner

Few were standing under the rain, the others were in the building to avoid getting a cold. → pronoun

They wanted to ask me few questions. → adjective

What They Refer to

  • 'Little' and 'few':

both refer to a small quantity. By quantity we mean the amount or number of something. As you know, 'few' refers to a small number, while 'little' refers to a small amount.

There is little hope for the dog to resist the hard surgery.

She is among the few people I care about.

Why Using 'of'

  • 'Little of' and 'few of':

are followed by noun phrases. A noun phrase can follow a definite article, determiners, etc.

Few of the guests were foreigners.

They used little of the water to wet the petals.


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