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too much/many, fewer/less, little, as much as

Qian Aiguo from Hong Kong writes:

Could you please tell me the difference between a little, a little bit and a bit with related examples? Thank you.

Enrique Luis de Simone from Argentina writes:

Could you please tell me something about how to use these words: too many/much, as many as, fewer and less?

Roger Woodham replies:

little / few and a little / a few

Little is used with uncountable and few is used with countable nouns. When we use few and little without the indefinite article, they usually have a negative meaning, but when we use them with the indefinite article, a little or a few, they have a more positive meaning. Compare the following:

  • I have few friends in England and I feel quite lonely.

  • I have a few friends in England, so I don't miss home so much.

  • I have little interest in classical music. I much prefer pop.

  • I have a little wine in the cellar. Would you like some?

Rather than little or few, we sometimes prefer to use a negative construction with much or many in conversational English, as it sounds slightly less formal:

  • He has little money. > He doesn't have very much money.

  • She had few friends. > She didn't have many friends.

a little / a bit

A little, a bit and a little bit are often used as adverbs in colloquial British English with little or no difference in meaning. Compare the following:

  • You're driving too fast. Could you please drive a little (bit) more slowly?

  • It was a long journey and I was feeling a bit / a little (bit) tired.

Bit can also combine with of before nouns to suggest a limited amount of something. Compare the following:

  • Let me give you a bit of advice. Don't drive so fast in built-up areas.

  • I'm not very hungry after the journey. I'll just have a bit of bread and cheese.

  • I've got a bit of a problem. The car has overheated, so we'll have to wait for it to cool down.

If we use it with a determiner or pronoun, little can also be used in this way:

  • Would you like to try a bit of this / a little of this very sweet dessert?

  • I'd love a bit of your / a little of your apple and walnut cake. It looks and smells delicious.
      fewer / less

Fewer and less are the comparative forms of few and little and are used with countable and uncountable nouns, respectively. Compare the following:

  • I've got a little (bit of) money in the bank. Not very much. Less than I had last year.

  • The weather was awful and fewer children took part in the procession this year.

too much / too many

Much and many can be used as an alternative to a lot of. Much is used with singular nouns and many is used with plural nouns. They can be used without nouns if the meaning is clear. Too expresses the idea of more than enough or more than necessary. Compare the following:

  • There were many / a lot of people in the dining room, but there wasn't very much / a lot of food left on the breakfast buffet tables.

  • I haven't eaten very much! ~ You've eaten far too much in my view. Much too much.

  • I had put too much salt in the soup and nobody ate it.

too or very

Make sure you can distinguish between too and very. Learners of English often confuse these two adverbs. Very means extremely and too means more than is wanted. Too is often followed by adjective + infinitive clause. Compare the following:

  • The maths problem was very difficult. It was too difficult for me to solve.

  • We arrived at the hotel very late - too late to have dinner there.

  • The lake was very muddy. It was too muddy to swim in.
    A pity! It was perfect weather for swimming. Not too hot.

as much / many as

We can use as much / many as when we are talking about quantity and want to compare things or people that are more or less equal. Much and many can be used in this way as determiners or pronouns or as an adverb in the case of many. Compare the following:

  • Share prices were falling and she didn't have as much money as she thought she had.

  • She won't be able to buy as many clothes this year as she bought last year.

  • The breakfast buffet at the hotel was great. You could eat as much as you wanted.

  • Would you like some strawberries with your cereal? Take as many as you like.

  • I don't expect you to finish the report. Just do as much as you can this evening.

  • You can criticise my lifestyle as much as you like. But it's my life!

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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