Expressing opinions about quantity

The quantifiers few and a few, and little and a little seem nearly identical but they are actually quite distinct. These expressions show the speaker's attitude towards the quantity he is referring to as either positive or negative.

Positive attitude

A few (for countable nouns) and a little (for uncountable nouns) describe the quantity in a positive way, implying that although the speaker may not have much, he has enough.

  • I've got a few friends. = I have enough friends.
  • I have a few flowers in my garden. = I have enough flowers.
  • I've got a little money. = I have enough money.
  • I have a little free time on Thursdays. = I have enough free time.
Negative attitude

Few (for countable nouns) and little (for uncountable nouns) describe the quantity in a negative way. They may actually indicate a total lack of the noun, but are more polite than saying so directly.

  • Few people visited him in hospital. = he had almost no visitors, or perhaps no visitors at all.
  • I've seen few birds around here. = there are almost no birds, or perhaps not a single bird
  • He had little money for treats. = almost no money, or perhaps no money at all
  • I have little time for TV = almost no time, or perhaps no time at all