Sample 1: “In the 11 courses that he took, he failed four courses and barely passed the rest. Some Americans who saw the post were surprised that the school offered that much courses in one semester.”(Americans surprised after ex-Unilag student revealed he took 11 courses in a semester, Opera News, 28 December, 2020)
The phrase of interest is: much courses. Please note the plural form of the noun courses. In addition, note the modifier much, a word that normally collocates with uncountable/non-count nouns. There is a contradiction in the plural status of the noun (courses) and the usage of the word much. The latter, much, is used to modify uncountable nouns which means it denotes singularity: much sugar, much water, much influence, much blood, etc. Notice that each noun the word much modifies is an uncountable noun. We shall come back to this point.
Meanwhile, this seemingly insignificant grammatical point provides a window of opportunity for us to discuss some common quantifiers whose appropriate usage users of the language should be familiar with. It may be necessary to illustrate the differences among the following words and expressions: little, a little; few, a few; fewer, less; much, many.
The words little and a little are usually used for uncountable or no-count or mass nouns. The expression a little is used when the quantity under consideration is small but manageable or can serve some desirable purpose.
Please read the following sentences:
1) Since we have a little oil left, we may manage today and buy a large quantity tomorrow.
2) A little more honesty and transparency could have prevented the crisis.
3) All I need now is a little more information.
4) A little more freedom will not hurt your children.
5) A little sleep will refresh you.
6) After eating some food, I gained a little strength.
7) I am sure you would do better if you spend a little more time on your studies.
8) He was helped by the fact that he had a little self-confidence.
Now compare those example sentences with the following sentences in which the word little (without the indefinite article
(a) ) is used:
1) The confusion arose because little information was provided on the matter.
2) He made a mess of the case because he has little intelligence.
3) He couldn’t have passed, seeing he has little understanding of the subject.
4) He remains a mystery; little is known about him.
5) One of the peculiarities of our democracy is that the chief executive of a state or of the federation usually cedes little power to his deputy.
6) With little food in his stomach, how can he sustain the rigour the work requires?
7) Unfortunately, the money that reaches the Local Government Councils is too little to make any significant impact.
8) Little has changed in terms of corruption since he came into power.
When you use the word little in respect of the quantity of a noun, you mean that the quantity in question is insignificant; it can’t serve any useful purpose; it is as good as nothing; your attitude to the amount is negative. In fact, some users have the habit of saying: “little or no; little or nothing.” E.g. Little or no time was available for questions. She has little or no idea of what a married life demands. Little or nothing has been achieved since he assumed power.
Now a few and few. It should be clear that little and a little are used in the context of uncountable nouns. However, few and a few are used for countable nouns. Please note that a few is to countable nouns what a little is to uncountable nouns; few is to countable nouns what little is to uncountable nouns. In other words, once we understand the usage of little and a little (which are meant for uncountable nouns), we simply apply the same principle of usage to few and a few (meant for countable nouns). Please read the following sentences:
1) Few people are interested in the development of the nation; many are interested in ‘grabbing’ whatever they can ‘grab.’
2) Few nations can look America straight in the eyes and tell it the home truth.
3) Few men are strong enough to regard their wives as equal partners in progress.
4) The reality is that few students major in physics and mathematics.
5) Few farmers have access to the funds that the banks claim are available on request.
6) Until the era of the oil boom, few houses in Nigeria were connected to the national grid.
7) Few teachers these days are prepared to make the sacrifices that teachers made in those days.
8) Few minds are as rich and bright as Wole Soyinka’s.
As in the usage of little (in respect of uncountable nouns), the attitude of the speaker/writer to the subject to which the noun few is applied is negative. Like little, the word few implies that the number in question is insignificant; not satisfactory; not good enough.
Now read, the following sentences:
1) In spite of the heavy rain, a few students came and we were able to hold the lecture.
2) Abacha’s terror machinery notwithstanding, a few newspapers were telling truth consistently.
3) A few of the tenants paid their rents and I was able to raise sufficient fund to refurbish the house.
4) I would advise you to visit the government-owned library; it has a few good books.
5) Since a few students have indicated interest in joining the class, lectures can start in earnest next week.
6) Happily, a few of our universities have met international standards.
7) A few more people have donated to the fund; we can now prepare the budget.
8) The literary production has been enriched by contributions from a few international scholars.
Here the attitude of the speaker/writer to the subject to which the expression a few is applied is positive. The number in each case is not a very large one. But it is such that can be managed with; it can ‘pass’ as it were; it is fairly satisfactory.
This takes us to the difference between fewer and less. Fewer is for countable nouns and less for uncountable nouns.
Read the following sentences:
1) Fewer and fewer people are subscribing to the capital market these days.
2) Those who have registered are fewer than those who have not.
3) Fewer and fewer Nigerians are becoming truly literate.
4) Courageous newspaper editors are fewer than the cowardly ones.
5) Fewer and fewer people are living in the rural areas these days.
6) I have come to realize that wise people are fewer in this world than foolish.
7) Those who passed the exam are fewer than those who failed it.
8) Honest policemen, like honest pastors or teachers or accountants or journalists, are becoming fewer and fewer.
At any rate, the phrase should read: many courses.
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