few, fewer, fewest
little, less, least
All quantifiers are determiners that express quantity, sometimes exact. But with graded quantifiers we can express approximate quantity on a relative scale (rising ➚ and falling ➘). (This idea is similar to adjectives such as big, bigger, biggest or small, smaller, smallest.) Also note, in the following table, that four of these quantifiers are used with countable nouns (C), four with uncountable nouns (U) and two with both.
The quantifiers many and much mean "a large quantity of". We use many with countable nouns and much with uncountable nouns:
- Were there many people at the party? Was it busy?
- We don't have much time left so let's go soon.
|+||I've got||a lot of eggs||a lot of rice|
|-||I haven't got||many eggs||much rice|
|?||Have you got||many eggs?||much rice?|
Many/much (and few/little) are unusual determiners because they have comparative and superlative forms. The comparative form of many/much is more; and the superlative form of many/much is most. We can use more and most with countable and uncountable nouns.
Look at these example sentences:
- Many people use the Internet and more people join every year.
- Last year there was a lot of crime, but there is even more crime this year.
- Whoever has most points is the winner.
- Since you have the most money, why don't you pay?
The quantifiers few and little mean "a small quantity of". We use few with countable nouns and little with uncountable nouns:
- There were few people in the shop so it didn't take long.
- There is little chance that he will come now so let's go home.
few/little versus a few/a little
Notice that few and little have a "negative" sense:
- He had few friends. (So he was quite lonely.)
- We have little time left. (Just a couple of minutes. Let's go!)
Adding the indefinite article a changes the emphasis to more "positive":
- He had a few friends. (So he wasn't too lonely.)
- We have a little time. (A bit of time. Let's grab a snack.)
The comparative form of few is fewer; and the superlative form of few is fewest. We use them with countable nouns:
- There were few visitors last week but there are even fewer visitors this week.
- If Tara has the fewest jobs to do, she can help the others.
The comparative form of little is less; and the superlative form of little is least. We use them with uncountable nouns:
- The run took little time last week and even less time this week.
- Eric has the least work to do so he can help you.
- Less people came this time.
|determiner||There is little time left.|
|adjective||I have a little dog.|
Look at some more example sentences showing graded quantifiers in context:
- Many people agreed with me.
- Are there many cars outside?
- I don't have many books.
- She used too much makeup.*
- They can't deliver today. There is too much snow.*
- I don’t have much work to do.
- More people will come if you advertise.
- There is more money in my account than I expected.
- Most winters are warmer than this.
- Jackie got the most points.
- Few people can lift their own bodyweight—perhaps less than five per cent.
- There are fewer old cars on the roads these days; more and more people prefer to buy new.
- This year we've had the fewest hurricanes on record.
- There's little doubt that the climate is getting warmer.
- Is it true that a policeman earns less money than a politician?
- It's not fair! I did the most work and I got the least money.
*Note that you can add too before many or much to indicate an excess amount.