What Are Quantifiers: Much, Many, Little, Few

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Level: Intermediate    Reading Time: 7 minutes    Category: Vocabulary

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Quantifiers are useful for all English learners. Native speakers use them all the time because they are a great way to answer the question “how much”. Most of the time, we don’t need to give an exact answer to this question. We can use quantifiers instead to give the listener a general idea of the amount.
 
The problem is that the most common quantifiers in English are a little tricky to use. This means a lot of learners use them in the wrong way and can confuse the listener.
 

To avoid this problem, you need to learn how to use quantifiers like a native speaker, so keep reading! You will learn everything you need to know in this lesson.

What are Quantifiers?

A quantifier is a word that goes before a noun to tell the listener the amount or quantity of that object. In English, you need to choose the correct quantifier depending on the amount.
 
There are quantifiers to talk about a large amount of something, such as much, many and a lot. For small amounts we use quantifiers like a little, a few and a bit. We also have quantifiers to talk about vague amounts such as any, some and enough.
 
Usually we put a quantifier before the noun in a sentence, for example:
 
  • Do you have some time to talk?
  • The pizza didn’t have much cheese on it
  • I have a few things I need to do.

 

If you want to learn more about nouns in English, read this lesson:   Countable and Uncountable Nouns Made Simple

Why are quantifiers important?

Without quantifiers, you would have to tell people the exact quantity of the noun. This would be annoying because you would have to count them all.
 
This is fine when we are talking about a small amount of something, but for big quantities, it would be a nightmare! This could also end up causing confusion for the speaker and the listener.

[bctt tweet=”Native speakers try to make things as easy as possible to understand when they are speaking. We use quantifiers a lot, because the listener can easily understand the amount.” username=”dansensei_”]
This is why you should learn to use quantifiers as soon as possible in English. You don’t need to learn them all right now, but you should concentrate on the most common ones. These are:
 
  • Much
  • Many
  • A few
  • A little
  • A lot of
Let’s look at how to use them in the correct way.

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Much and Many

These quantifiers are easy to use and understand.
[bctt tweet=”Much and many are often used to talk about a large amount or quantity of an object. Although they have the same meaning, you should choose which one to use based on the situation.” username=”dansensei_”]
If a noun is countable, we use many to describe the amount. The noun is usually in the plural form. Here are some examples:

  • many apples
  • many friends
  • many books

 

So, if the noun is uncountable, you should use much. Uncountable nouns are usually in the singular form. Here are some examples:

  • much time
  • much money
  • much space

 

Do you want more information about countable and uncountable nouns?   Countable and Uncountable Nouns Made Simple

 

HOWEVER…

 

In daily English, we only use much and many in negative sentences or questions. This is a common mistake, so please check these examples:

  • I don’t have much free time these days.
  • We don’t have many apples left. We should buy some more.
  • Do you have many friends?

 

In formal, written texts, you will sometimes see much or many used in positive statements. This is very rare, but you may see it in the news sometimes.

To learn more about much and many, check out this lesson:   Do You Make These Quantifier Mistakes?

Little and Few

Little and few are almost the opposite of much and many.
[bctt tweet=”When you want to talk about a small amount of a noun, you can use little and few. They also have very similar meanings, but are used in different situations.” username=”dansensei_”]
You should use few with countable nouns, in the same way you use many. The nouns should be in the plural form. For example:

  • few cars
  • few hours
  • few tasks

 

Just like much, we use little with uncountable nouns, which are usually in the singular form. Here are some examples:

  • little water
  • little energy
  • little information

 

Do you want more information about countable and uncountable nouns?   Countable and Uncountable Nouns Made Simple

 

Both of these words have a negative meaning, so we use them in affirmative sentences and questions. Check out these examples:

  • Very few places I have visited were as interesting as Osaka.
  • They had little money for souvenirs.
  • Do you have a few minutes to help me with something tonight?

 

FEW VS A FEW / LITTLE VS A LITTLE

In English, you can say few, or you can say a few. A lot of students know that they are different phrases, but the don’t know what the differences are. 

Although these phrases are very similar, they do have a nuance difference. Check out these examples:

  • She had a few friends at her new school. – This means she had a small amount/number of friends.
  • She had few friends at her new school. – This means she had hardly any friends. Almost zero.

 

Additionally, the same thing is also true with little and a little. Like this:

  • He saved a little money every month when he was a student – This means he saved a small amount of money.
  • He saved little money every month when he was a student – This means he saved almost nothing.

 

To learn more about little and few, check out this lesson:   Do You Make These Quantifier Mistakes?

a lot of

A lot of is by far the easiest quantifier to use for learners. It is also the easiest to understand.
[bctt tweet=”A lot of has almost exactly the same meaning as much and many. We use it to talk about large quantities of nouns. It is much more useful than other quantifiers though.” username=”dansensei_”]
This is because it can be used in almost every situation.
 
You can use a lot of in these situations:
  • Affirmative statements: She ate a lot of pasta.
  • Negative statements: We didn’t have a lot of time.
  • Questions: Do you watch a lot of movies?
  • Countable nouns: I have a lot of comic books on my shelf.
  • Uncountable nouns: I try to drink a lot of water throughout the day.

 

You will also hear the more causal versions of this phrase “lots of” and “loads” quite a lot in daily conversations.
 
There is one more nuance difference between a lot of and much/many that you should know about.
 
When we use much or many in negative questions, it means that we expect that a large quantity of the noun is not there. For example:
  • Isn’t there much beer left? – This means that the speaker expects that there is only a small amount of beer remaining.
 
Yet, if we use a lot of in negative questions, we expect a large amount of something to be there. For example:
  • Isn’t there a lot of beer left? – This means that the speakers expects that there is a large amount of beer remaining.

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