(A) little and (a) few are quantifiers meaning ‘some’. Little and few have negative meanings. We use them to mean ‘not as much as may be expected or wished for’.
some, a small number
not many/almost none
some, a small amount
not much/almost nothing
some, a small amount
not much/almost nothing
A little, a few with a noun
We use a little with singular uncountable nouns. We use a few with plural countable nouns:
Mary said nothing, but she drank some tea and ate a little bread.
We stayed a few days in Florence and visited the museums.
Little, few with a noun
We use little with uncountable nouns. We use few with plural countable nouns. They are used in formal contexts:
I’m not very happy about it but I suppose I have little choice.
Few cities anywhere in Europe can match the cultural richness of Berlin.
[talking about a period of history]
At that time few people travelled who didn’t have to.
(A) little, (a) few without a noun
We can use (a) little and (a) few as pronouns. We can use them to substitute for a noun when it is obvious from the context:
After that, she began to tell them a little about her life in Scotland, particularly her life with the Rosenblooms.
Don’t take all the strawberries. Just have a few. (Just have a few strawberries.)
Little and few are not very common without a noun. We use them in formal contexts:
Little is known about his upbringing and education.
Few would be in favour of police officers carrying weapons.
(A) little of, (a) few of
We use of with (a) little and (a) few when they come before articles (a/an, the), demonstratives (this, that), possessives (my, your) or pronouns (him, them):
Put the flour into a bowl, blend with a little of the milk, beat in the egg yolks, then the sugar and the rest of the milk.
A few of his films were seen abroad.
A little: adverb
We use a little as an adverb of degree. It is more formal than a bit:
He smiled just a little.
Her hands were shaking a little.
A little with adjectives, determiners, adverbs
We use a little before adjectives and adverbs to modify them. It is more formal than a bit:
She seemed to be getting a little better.
What you need is a little more romance.
We often use a little with bit:
I find that a little bit hard to believe.
We use little as an adjective to mean ‘small’:
‘You’re going to have a little baby brother, Martha,’ her mother told her one day.
I know a little restaurant not far from here.
Little or small?
Little and small have similar meanings. We use small to refer only to size. We use little to refer to size, but also to express a positive emotion (especially with words like beautiful, lovely, wonderful):
He’s a small baby. (He’s smaller than average.)
He’s a lovely little baby. (He’s lovely and small.)
There’s a wonderful little café at the end of the street. (preferred to: There’s a wonderful small café at the end of the street.)
2) Neither, neither … nor and not … either
Neither as a determiner
Neither allows us to make a negative statement about two people or things at the same time. Neither goes before singular countable nouns. We use it to say ‘not either’ in relation to two things. Neither can be pronounced /ˈnaɪðə(r)/ or /ˈni:ðə(r)/.
Neither parent came to meet the teacher. (The mother didn’t come and the father didn’t come.)
Neither dress fitted her. (There were two dresses and not one of them fitted her.)
We use neither of before pronouns and plural countable nouns which have a determiner (my, his, the) before them:
Neither of us went to the concert.
Neither of the birthday cards was suitable.
In formal styles, we use neither of with a singular verb when it is the subject. However, in informal speaking, people often use plural verbs:
Neither of my best friends was around.
Neither of them were interested in going to university.
In speaking, we can use neither on its own in replies when we are referring to two things that have already been mentioned:
Mike, which would you prefer, tea or coffee?
Neither thanks. I’ve just had a coffee.
Neither … nor
We can use neither as a conjunction with nor. It connects two or more negative alternatives. This can sound formal in speaking:
Neither Brian nor his wife mentioned anything about moving house. (Brian didn’t mention that they were moving house and his wife didn’t mention that they were moving house.)
Neither Italy nor France got to the quarter finals last year.
The less formal alternative is to use and … not … either:
Italy didn’t get to the quarter finals last year and France didn’t either.
Not with neither and nor
When a clause with neither or nor is used after a negative clause, we invert the subject and the verb after neither and nor:
He hadn’t done any homework, neither had he brought any of his books to class.
We didn’t get to see the castle, nor did we see the cathedral.
Neither do I, Nor can she
We use neither and nor + auxiliary/modal verb + subject to mean ‘also not’:
I hate snakes. I can’t even look at a picture of a snake.
Neither can I.
Not: I can’t also.
Jacqueline doesn’t drive.
Nor does Gina.
Not: Gina doesn’t also.
Not … either
We can use not … either to mean ‘also not’, but we do not change the word order of the auxiliary or modal verb and subject:
I haven’t ever tasted caviar.
I haven’t either. (or Neither have I./Nor have I.)
I didn’t see Lesley at the concert.
I didn’t either. (or Neither did I./Nor did I.)
In informal speaking, we often say me neither:
I can’t smell anything.
Me neither. (or I can’t either.)
Neither: typical errors
We use neither, not none, when we are talking about two people or things:
Books and television are different. Neither of them should replace the other.
Not: None of them …
We don’t normally use both (of) + not to make a negative statement about two people or things:
Neither of these shirts is/are dry yet.
Not: Both of these shirts aren’t dry yet.
3) Quantifiers: all, every, each, both, neither, either
Meaning and use: all, every each
Quantifiers are words that give us information about the number or amount of something. All, every and each mean the whole number of something in a group, but there are differences in how we use them. In this unit we look at how to use them with nouns.
All or All the is followed by a plural or uncountable noun. Every and each are followed by a singular noun.
- All (the) students have their own rooms.
- All (the) information is on the website.
- Every/Each student has their own room. (OR has his/her own room.)
Every and each can often be used in the same place, but we prefer every when we are thinking about the whole number in a group, and each when we are thinking about the members of the group as individuals.
- I love every painting by that artist.
- Each painting is unique.
For emphasising every single one, we must use everynot each.
- You’ve eaten every chocolate in the box!
For only two things, we can use each but not every.
- In baseball, how many players are there in each team?
All and each but not every can be followed by of and a plural noun or pronoun. Notice that each of with a plural noun or pronoun is followed by a singular verb.
- All of the students have their own rooms.
- Each of them has their own room.
With plural noun
- All (the) students
- All of the students
- Each of the students
With plural pronoun
- All of them
- Each of us
With uncountable noun
- All (the) information
- All of the information
With singular noun
- Every student
- Each student
Take note: articles
We don’t use an article (the, a/an) before every or each.
- Every painting is unique.
- NOT: The every painting is unique.
Take note: possessive and demonstrative adjectives
We don’t use every before possessive adjectives (his, her, etc) or demonstrative adjectives (these, those).
- Tarantino’s a brilliant director. I’ve seen all his films.
- NOT: I’ve seen every his films.