SAMPLE 1: “The Nation gathered that some people who have been nursing ministerial hopes now stand a little or no chance of making it into the next cabinet on account of Kyari’s return as Chief of Staff.”(Kyari’s Return Alters Lobbying for Buhari’s Cabinet, The Nation, Sunday 21 July, 2019)
I draw readers’ attention to the expression, “a little or no chance.” The first part of the expression a little is a misnomer, particularly in relation to the second part, or no chance. The expression required in the context is little (and not a little). The presence or absence of the indefinite article (a) is grammatically and semantically significant as the illustrative sentences we shall provide shortly will illustrate. The word little (without the indefinite article a) is the one can properly go with the expression or no chance. In fact little means almost non-existent.
This error provides an opportunity for us to rehash our discussion of quantifiers.
Please read the following sentences: 1) There are some oranges in the store. 2) Some motherless babies are being taken care of by the benevolent family. 3) Some innovative ways of doing the job were introduced by the new manager. 4) There are some interesting characters in the play. 5) Some strangers are outside waiting to see you. 6) Some dangerous developments have occasioned adjustments in the timetable. 7) The students are of mixed abilities: some are very good, some very weak, and some others average. 8) Some people believe God is good; some believe He is mean; some others believe He is indifferent. 9) Not all Nigerian cities are dangerous at night: some are dangerous, yes, but some are safe and even peaceful. 10) Although many of the products are expensive, some are definitely affordable.
Readers should please note that, whether as a quantifier or as a pronoun, the word some has been used in relation to a countable, plural noun in each sentence. But it can also be used in the context of uncountable nouns.
Read the following sentences: 1) Some of his experience is bitter, some interesting, and some quite pleasant. 2) Add some hot water to the powder and stir quickly until it thickens. 3) The boy said he had taken some food this morning. 4) The president is expected to delegate some power to the vice president. 5) He is feeling dizzy because he has lost some blood. 6) Her life is racked by some feeling of abandonment and alienation. 7) I need some time to reflect on this matter. 8) Whatever the case may be, there is some truth in what the chairman said. 9) It was obvious he acted under some pressure. 10) I remember keeping some money in the bank.
To be able to illustrate the usage of few/a few effectively, we need to bring in the usage of little/a little.
The expressions little and a little are both used for uncountable nouns. The word little is used to indicate that the quantity under reference is very low, unsatisfactorily small, almost non-existent, not significant. Now read the following sentences: 1) Little success has been achieved in the last four years in the fight against corruption. 2) Little is known of the man’s whereabouts since his sudden disappearance. 3) The protracted illness has left him with little strength. 4) Little rainfall is usually recorded during the first three months of the year. 5) It is so easy to get suffocated with little fresh air coming in. 6) A teacher who is not committed to his work is bound to make little impact on the pupils. 7) A desert is by definition a place where there is too little water. 8) With little intelligence and little knowledge of the language, how does he hope to achieve much? 9) Her schedule is so tight that she has little time for relaxation and social interaction. 10) Honestly, little can be said in favour of his competence.
The expression a little is employed to indicate the quantity in question is fairly large, at least enough to manage with, do “business” with.
Please read the following sentences: 1) With a little more self-confidence, he is likely to make an effective public speaker. 2) I am willing to recommend him because he has at least a little understanding of the subject. 3) A little misunderstanding between them has developed into a ferocious hatred. 4) We can go shopping next week by which time I hope to have had a little more money. 5) We need a little more time to understand the system. 6) A little kindness will make life better for you and your neighbours. 7) The governors should be magnanimous enough to grant a little more power to their deputies. 8) All I desire in a house is a little comfort. 9) If you want your relationship to be healthy, you have to create a little distance between you and him. 10) I had always thought that that matter was a little more important than that.
The expressions few and a few are used for countable nouns. Few is to countable nouns what little is to uncountable nouns. Similarly, a few is to countable nouns what a little is to uncountable nouns.
Read the following sentences: 1) Few occasions give me more joy than this. 2) Few Christian leaders, if any, have risked their lives in the service of Christ more than Paul, the apostle. 3) Few Nigerian leaders have a true understanding of the concept of power. 4) Truly altruistic leaders and citizens are very few. 5) Few laws have been enacted that have more impact than this. 6) Incorruptible policemen are few. 7) Few teachers can commit their personal resources to the teaching of their pupils. 8) Few professions are as noble and as hazardous as journalism. 9) There are few female engineers in Nigeria. 10) There are few mathematics teachers in the country.
As those sentences show, the word few means the number of people or thing in question is insignificant.
We can now read the following sentences: 1) I need to brief you on a few interesting developments that have taken place since you left. 2) In spite of the heavy rain, a few members attended the meeting. 3) We need not be in a hurry to buy yams; there are a few remaining in the store. 4) It was rather early, yes, but a few commercial vehicles were already running. 5) Stop complaining about my house being far; a few of my friends have visited me there. 6) A few children of that age have started reading the letters of the alphabet. 7) There are a few decent hotels in the neighbourhood. 8) It is largely a Muslim community, but there are a few churches there too. 9) There are a few apocryphal stories circulating about his promiscuity. 10) There are a few provisions in our constitution dealing with that matter.