Quantifiers are an important part of English grammar. We can use a few, a little, a lot and lots of to mean “not very much”, “not very many” and “plenty of”. The one you choose depends on what type of noun you are describing.
Few and little
We use a few with plural, countable nouns. For example, “A few people came to the party.”
We use a little with uncountable nouns. For example, “There’s a little coffee left, if you would like some.”
We can also use few and little (without “a”) to mean very few or very little (i.e. much less in quantity).
For example, “There’s little point in calling” (= there’s not much point calling).
“There were few people at the concert.”
“A few” is more in quantity than “few”; and “a little” is more in quantity than “little”.
“Few people understand” (not many people understand), compared to “a few people understand” (some people understand).
In spoken English, we can also say not many, or only a few to mean “few” and only a little or not much to mean “little”.
“Not many people came to the party.” Or “Only a few people came to the party.”
“There was only a little petrol left in the car.” Or “There wasn’t much petrol left in the car.”
Making comparisons with quantifiers
The comparative form of “few” is fewer, and the comparative form of “little” is less.
Remember: use “fewer” for plural, countable nouns, and “less” for uncountable nouns.
For example, “There are fewer people here than last year” or “He drinks less coffee than I do”.
It is grammatically incorrect to say “There are less people here than last year”, as “people” is a plural countable noun.
Lots of and a lot of
In spoken English we often use lots of or a lot of. In written English, it is more common to write many (for countable plural nouns) or a great deal of (for uncountable nouns) in positive statements.
A common mistake is to use lot of. For example, “There are lot of accidents on this road”. To avoid making this mistake, remember either to use a before lot, or to make lot plural – lots.
We can say either a lot of or lots of before a noun. For example, “There are a lot of people here” or “There are lots of people here”. There isn’t any difference between the two expressions.
Quantifiers used as adverbs and short answers
We can use quantifiers like “a lot”, “a little” or “not very much” as adverbs.
“She talks a lot“.
“He doesn’t eat very much!”
“She’s beginning to go out a little after the accident.”
We can also use these quantifiers as short answers.
“Do you like swimming?”, “Yes, a lot.” / “Not very much.” / “A little!”
For more information on types of nouns, see our page on English articles.
Now try our grammar exercise on quantifiers!