“Few” and “a few”; “little” and “a little”

There’s a big difference between “few” and “a few”. In fact they have opposite meanings.

If you say, for example, “I have few friends”, it means you do not have many friends.

However, if you say, “I have a few friends”, it means that although you don’t have lots of friends, you do have some.

And if you say, for example, “I have a few friends in the Ministry”, it sounds impressive.

“few” = not many
“a few” = several

“Few” and “a few” are used with countable nouns.

Some examples:

The Regulator has presented this standpoint on few occasions. (i.e. it has rarely presented this standpoint)
The Regulator has presented this standpoint on a few occasions. (i.e. it has presented this standpoint several times)

There are few legal tools that could be used to invalidate the transactions. (i.e. there are legal tools, but not many. Invalidating the transactions might be a problem)
There are a few legal tools that could be used to invalidate the transactions. (i.e. there are several legal tools that we can use.  It should not be a problem to invalidate the transactions)

“Little” and “a little” work in the same way as “few” and “a few”.

“I have little money” means you’re poor.

“I have a little money” is a modest way of saying you’re reasonably wealthy.

“little” = not much
“a little” = some

“Little” and “a little” are used with uncountable nouns.

Some examples:

I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. (i.e. some help)
The project may take us a little more time than we initially estimated. (i.e. some more time)
Our research indicates that little effort was made on the part of the auditors. (i.e. not much effort)
We hope to be able to complete the project in as little time as possible. (i.e. not much time – “as little … as possible” is a common phrase)
The measure will be of little help to general practitioners. (i.e. not much help – “of little help” is a common phrase)

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