Language tip of the week: few

Posted by on February 20, 2014

Learn English with Macmillan DictionaryIn this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. These tips are usually based on areas of English which learners find difficult, e.g. spelling, grammar, collocation, synonyms, etc.

This week’s language tip helps with the determiner few:

Don’t use a singular noun or an uncountable noun after few. Always use a plural noun:
Few restaurant owner are satisfied, and most object to this regulation.
Few restaurant owners are satisfied, and most object to this regulation.

With uncountable nouns, use little (not few):
✗ TV, video and computer games leave few space for dreaming and imagination.
✓ TV, video and computer games leave little space for dreaming and imagination.
✗ Poverty is when a country has very few food.
✓ Poverty is when a country has very little food.

Don’t confuse few and little with a few and a little:
✗ Criminals can get permission to leave the prison for few days on holiday.
✓ Criminals can get permission to leave the prison for a few days on holiday.
✗ An e-mail will be received in few minutes.
✓ An e-mail will be received in a few minutes.

Few and little generally have a negative meaning, referring to amounts that are smaller than you would like them to be:
At that time, there were few women in management positions.
In the UK, little work of any description seems to have been done on human behaviour.

A few and a little simply refer to a small amount or number:
We’re having a few friends over for dinner.
The majority of injuries are superficial and, with a little care, heal quickly.

More language tips

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