I’ve just got a few…I mean a little…I mean not many problems with quantifiers….!

First off, thank you all for your kind reactions to my last newsletter. Wow, there is so much love out there. And some of you, strangers all, even contributed to my new B.DEAL (Buffi Duberman Education and Language) Foundation, which I founded to help give children equal access to (language) education in remote areas of Bali. Your kindness will help so many, and I am so pleased to announce that we have a volunteer on Bali in 2 weeks! She will be making a generous donation on behalf of the Foundation which will go towards whiteboards, projectors, a laptop, and printing costs of new materials. Thank you all so much for your kindness! I really do have the BEST readers out there! You ROCK!!! 

I’d like to tackle a situation that many of you might be struggling with. When do you use ‘few’, ‘a few’, ‘much’ ‘many’, ‘little’ or ‘a little’? You might have 99 problems in English, but after reading this, you’ll only have 93, I promise! 🙂

Let’s first think about what you’re describing. Is it countable or uncountable?

Here are some example of countable nouns- flowers, pies, books, vegan pizzas, children, lace thongs, and disco balls. You can walk into a room and see all of these wonderful things (sounds like a great party to me!) and count them one by one, if you wanted to. You would use ‘MANY’ for these.

There were many vegan pizzas on display at the hipster bakery.

And the opposite of ‘many’ is ‘a few’.

There were just a few vegan pizzas left after my friends and I visited the hipster bakery.

And these, my friends, are uncountable nouns – energy, violence, rain, advice, money, time. You normally don’t think of counting these things one by one. We use ‘MUCH’ for things that are uncountable. But guess what? ‘There was much rain on our vacation’ sounds weird. And so does ‘We were given much advice.’ The mind-blowing thing is that ‘MUCH’ is used mostly in the negative -he didn’t have much money, I don’t have much time today.

We didn’t have much energy after eating all of those vegan pizzas in the above paragraph.

You can also use ‘little‘ instead of ‘much‘.

There was little rain (or a little bit of rain) on our vacation, which was great!

And guess what? When you are in doubt if it’s countable or uncountable, just say ‘A LOT OF‘ or ‘NOT A LOT OF‘. That works for everything. Cool, right? (Yes, totally cool.)

There were a lot of flowers in the vase. (countable)
She gave us a lot of advice last week. (uncountable)

And…what about ‘a few‘ vs ‘few‘?
Let me clear that one up too, as I’m feeling extremely magnanimous  today.

A few‘ means not many, but some.
We only have a few hours left before the hipster bakery closes!
Few‘ is not many or none at all.
She has few friends.

Watch out – they can be very close in meaning, but sometimes they are worlds apart:

A few people think that smoking is dangerous.
(This means that some people think it is dangerous.)
Few people think that smoking is dangerous.
(This means that hardly anyone thinks that it is dangerous.)

Oh, and to make it even more interesting, if you say ‘quite a few‘, that means ‘many‘. Lovely. Isn’t English fun?

And ‘a little‘ means a small amount.

Although she was poor, she tried hard to save a little money every month.

And ‘little‘ means ‘not much’ or ‘almost nothing’.

Little did she know that she was about to win the lottery!

So, darling, are you more confused than ever?
If so, try this exercise to help you.

I hope now you don’t have much confusion, or many questions, or a lot of sleepless nights worrying about English!


Buffi x


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