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How To Use: Some Any, Much Many, Little Few

When do you use some and when do you use any? Is it much or many? And what’s the difference between few and little? In this post we will show you how to use these words correctly. We will explain the rules for each pair and give you real example sentences so you can see how to use them in context. Don’t forget to try the practice exercises at the end to test your understanding!

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Quick intro

Some, any, much, many, few and little are all words that come before nouns to help explain them. Some and any are both “determiners” – they tell us whether the noun phrase is general or specific. Some and any are both “general determiners”, which means they refer to an indefinite or unknown quantity of something.

Much, many, few and little are all “quantifiers”. Quantifiers are used to give information about quantity (the number of something). Both much and many suggest a large quantity of something, whilst little and few mean: not as much, or not as many. However, if you use a little or a few this means: a small amount!

But how do we know when to use each word? Broadly speaking, the rules for using these terms are based on whether the noun we are referring to is countable, uncountable, plural vs. singular OR whether they appear in positive or negative sentences or questions. Be careful because each set of words has its own particular rules and exceptions! Let’s take a closer look…

 

Some vs. any

The words some and any are used when the exact number or amount of something is not known, or when it’s not important. Some and any are both used to refer to an indefinite quantity or number.

For example:

There are some birds in our garden.
(We don’t know exactly how many birds are in the garden or it doesn’t matter how many birds there are exactly)

As opposed to:

There are three birds in our garden.
(The number of birds is important and exact)

Some and any are known as “general determiners”. They are used to modify nouns, specifically to tell us that the noun phrase is general (rather than specific).  They can be used with:

  1. Countable or uncountable nouns:
    We don’t have any time to get popcorn before the film starts.(Time is uncountable)
    We still have some apples on the tree. (Apples are countable)
  2. Singular or plural nouns:
    We don’t have any chicken left for dinner. (Chicken is singular)
    It’s such nice weather! Let’s invite some friends round for a BBQ. (Friends is plural)
When do I use someand when do I use any?

Although some and any are both used to describe an indefinite number, they are used in different ways. So how do we use them correctly?

In general, some is used in positive sentences (that don’t contain the word ‘not’):

I would love to try some of that food! It looks delicious!
I have bought some strawberries and cream to have for dessert.
Let’s invite some friends round and have a party tonight!
Some people think it’s better to eat healthily than to exercise a lot.

Looking at related words can help you to understand the difference in meaning between ‘some’ and ‘any’. Common words that include ‘some’ are: someone, something, somewhere and somebody. These are all used in positive sentences. In contrast, these popular words with ‘any’ are used in negative sentences and questions: anything, anywhere, anyone and anybody.

Any is used in negative sentences (that contain the word ‘not’):

We don’t have any space left in the car so we won’t be able to give you a lift.
I don’t need any help with my homework because I can do it on my own.
There isn’t any milk in the fridge so we’ll have to have black coffee.
I’m not hungry at the moment so I don’t want anything to eat.

And in questions:

Have you got any idea how long the film lasts?
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
It would be great to season these potatoes. Is there any salt and pepper?
Do you have any plans for the summer?

A common, informal way of asking a question in spoken English is to say: “any chance…”, rather than saying “Please could I…”. For example, “Any chance I could borrow a fiver?” means: “Could I borrow five pounds?”. Remember you would only use this with your friends, family or anyone else you know well! It is an informal expression.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to these rules. We can use some in questions when offering something or making requests:

Would you like some milk and sugar in your tea?
Can I get you something to drink while you wait?
Shall we invite some friends round?
I left my wallet at home; can I borrow some money for lunch?

We use any in positive sentences when we mean “it doesn’t matter which…”:

There’s no seating plan so you can sit anywhere you like.
You can play any song by that band.  I love them all!
Choose any pair of shoes you want. They’re all the same price.
I don’t mind which pair of shoes you buy me. I’ll take any of them!

SomeAnyExamples
Refer to an unknown number or quantityRefer to an unknown number or quantityThere are some birds in your garden
Used with uncountable and countable nounsUsed with uncountable and countable nounsWe don’t have any time to get popcorn before the film starts(time is uncountable)
We still have some apples on the tree(apples are countable)
Used with singular and plural nounsUsed with singular and plural nounsWe don’t have any chicken left for dinner(chicken is singular)
It’s such nice weather; let’s invite some friends round for a BBQ (friends is plural)
Used in positive sentencesI would love to try some of that food, it looks delicious!
Used in negative sentencesI don’t need any help with my homework; I can do it on my own.
Used in questionsDo you have any brothers or sisters?
Used in questions that are offering/making requestsCan I get you something to drink whilst you wait?
Used in positive sentences to mean “it doesn’t matter which”There’s no seating plan, you can sit anywhere you like.

 

Much vs. many

Much and many are known as “quantifiers”. They are used to talk about quantities, amounts or degrees (along with ‘a lot of’ and ‘lots of’) and suggest a large quantity of something.

When do I use much and when do I use many?

Many is used with plural, countable nouns (e.g. dogs, dollars, tables, children). Much is used with singular, uncountable nouns (e.g. happiness, music, water, time):

There aren’t many doctors in the hospital today. (doctors are countable)
Many Brits choose to retire in Spain. (Brits/British people are countable)
There isn’t much light in this room so let’s open the curtains. (light is uncountable)
Too much money was spent on the Royal Wedding. (money is uncountable)

Remember equipment, luggage and information are all uncountable nouns and therefore will always use much. For example, ‘How much equipment does your studio have?’, ‘You have too much luggage to board the plane!’, ‘There isn’t much information on your CV. Please make it more detailed…’.

We usually use much and many with questions and negative statements:

 How many apples do you want?
How much time does it take to get to your house from here?
I don’t think many people agree with her views on marriage.
There wasn’t much noise coming from the house, even though there was a party going on.

We sometimes us much and many in positive statements when:

  1. They are used with so, asor too:

I think he has too many tattoos! I don’t like them.
Sarah has so much money at the moment; she must be earning a lot!
John makes as much money as Sarah. 

Some Any

  • Too is often used before much and many to mean: ‘more than was needed’. For example, ‘I bought too much fruit at the market. We’ll never eat it all before it goes off!’ and ‘There are too many people in the waiting room.’.
  • We use ‘so’ rather than ‘very’ before much and many in positive statements to emphasise a large quantity of something. So you would say: ‘We have so much work to do today!’ and not ‘We have very much work to do today!’.
  • ‘As much as’ or ‘as many as’ are used to make a comparison and show that something is the same as or equal to something else. For example, ‘There are as many at this meeting as there were at the previous one.’.
  1. They can be used in more formal written texts:

There has been much debate about the government’s new policy on education.
There were many articles about the effects of the virus on the local population.
There have been many allegations against him from members of his team.
We believe there is still much work to be done in the area of public health.

Generally, it is more common to use lots of/a lot ofin positive statements. This is more informal:

The shop had a sale on so I spent lots of money!
We have a lot of time so there’s no need to rush.
Anna has lots of friends so she’s always busy.
I think a lot of music sounds the same these days.

If much or many are used before articles (a/an, the), demonstratives (this, that), possessives (my, your) or pronouns (him, them), they are followed by ‘of’:

How much of this book have you read?
Not many of the students come from privileged backgrounds?
I couldn’t ride a bike for much of my childhood.
How many of them are under the age of 30?

In spoken English, certain words are often omitted or left out. For example, we say ‘this muchor ‘that muchand use a hand gesture to indicate the amount or size as in: ‘I’ll have this much cake.’(use fingers to show the amount).

It is also common to miss out the noun when it is obvious what is being discussed. For example, – ‘Could I have some apples, please?’ – ‘Sure! How many would you like?’ (no need to repeat the word ‘apples’).

MuchManyExamples
Used with plural, countable nounsThere aren’t many doctors in the hospital today. (doctors are countable)
Too many people drop litter in the street. (people are countable)
Used with singular, uncountable nounsThere isn’t much light in this room so let’s open the curtains. (light is uncountable)
Too much money was spent on the Royal Wedding. (money is uncountable)
Most commonly used with questions and negative statementsMost commonly used with questions and negative statementsHow many apples do you want?
How much time does it take to get to your house form here?
I don’t think many people agree with her views on marriage.
There wasn’t much noise coming from the house, even though there was a party going on.
Occasionally used with positive statements when:
a) used with so, as or too
b) more formal, written texts
Lots of/a lot ofis more common
Occasionally used with positive statements when:
a) used with so, as or too
b) more formal, written texts
Lots of/a lot ofis more common
He has too many tattoos.
Sarah has so much money at the moment; she must be earning a lot!
John earns as much money as Sarah.
There have been many allegations against him from members of his team.
We believe there is still much work to be done in the area of public health. 
If used before articles, demonstratives, possessives or pronouns, it is followed by ‘of’If used before articles, demonstratives, possessives or pronouns, it is followed by ‘of’How much of this book have you read?
Not many of the students come from privileged backgrounds.
I couldn’t ride a bike for much of my childhood.
How many of them are under the age of 30?


 

Few vs. little

Little and few are “quantifiers”. When theyare used on their own they have a negative meaning to suggest ‘not as much or not as many as might be expected’.

But be careful! When little and few are used with an article – a little or a few– both words mean ‘some’ and have a positive meaning.

When do I use fewand when do I use little?

Little is used with singular, uncountable nouns and few is used with plural, countable nouns to mean ‘not as much’ or ‘not as many’. For example:

The play made little sense to me, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. (sense is uncountable) = the play didn’t make much sense.
She didn’t want to go, but she had little choice. (choice is uncountable) = she didn’t have much choice.
There are few people that I think would be qualified for the job. (people is countable) = there aren’t many people qualified for the job.
There are few tourists at this time of year so the beaches are nice and quiet. (tourists is countable) = there aren’t many tourists. 

A little is used with singular, uncountable nouns and a few is used with plural, countable nouns to mean ‘some’:

We have a little time before the play starts so why don’t we get a drink?
We have a little space in our car if you want a lift.
There are a few good candidates that have applied so I’m sure we’ll find someone for the job.
We stayed in Spain a few days before going on to France. 

‘A little’ (more formal) is similar to ‘a bit’ (less formal). Both expressions mean the same thing and are common in spoken English. For example, ‘We have a bit of time before the play starts.’, ‘Can I have a little more cake, please?’, ‘We have a bit of beer left over from the party.’. You can also combine the two and say ‘a little bit’, as in: ‘I’m a little bit confused about…’.

As well as having negative meanings, few and little on their own are also quite formal and are generally not used very much in everyday spoken English. It is more common to instead use a negative sentence with ‘many’ or ‘much’. For example:

The play made little sense to me, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. = The play didn’t make much sense to me.
She didn’t want to go, but she had little choice. = She didn’t have much choice.
There are few people that I think would be qualified for the job. = There aren’t many people.
There are few tourists at this time of year so the beaches are nice and quiet. = There aren’t many tourists. 

Compare these different meanings:

It’s snowing outside and I have few warm layers on so I’m really cold!
It’s snowing outside but I have a few warm layers on so I’m ok.

I have few friends in the city, so it can be quite lonely.
I have a few friends in the city, so I’m settling in well. 

FewA fewLittleA littleExamples
Used with singular, uncountable nouns to mean ‘not as much’The play made little sense to me, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Used with plural, countable nouns to mean ‘not as many’There are few tourists at this time of year so the beaches are nice and quiet.
Used with singular, uncountable nouns to mean ‘some’We have a little time before the play starts so why don’t we get a drink?
Used with plural, countable nouns to mean ‘some’We stayed in Spain a few days before going on to France. 

 

Exercises: Some / any, much / many, few / little

A. Fill in the gaps with either some or any:
  1. There isn’t (_______) time to finish your lunch. We need to leave now!
  2. We have _______ham sandwiches in the fridge if you’re hungry.
  3. Shall we bake _______ cupcakes for the party?
  4. Do you have _______ family in Italy?
  5. I won’t need to do _______more revision after my exams.
  6. There aren’t _______ shopping centres near my house.
  7. Is there _______news on the royal couple’s wedding plans yet?
  8. We finally have _______ news about the royal wedding!
  9. Would you like _______ more soup, or are you full?
  10. Pick _______ birthday card you like. I think they’re all nice.
B. Choose the correct word to complete the sentences below:
  1. How much/many/many of the guests ordered lunch?
  2. She has too much/many/much of ideas and can’t focus on one thing at a time!
  3. We don’t have much of/much/many sunshine at this time of year.
  4. How many/much/much of people live in your block of flats?
  5. How many/much/much of the assignment have you completed so far?
  6. How many/many of/much money will I need for 2 days in London?
  7. There has been many/much/much of debate about the new regulations.
  8. Too many/much/much of people are driving in London and the traffic is a nightmare.
  9. There isn’t much of/many/much time before our flight so let’s go straight to the gate.
  10. My son doesn’t have many/much/much of friends at school.
C. Fill in the gaps with either few, little, a few or a little:
  1. There’s _______ chance of Mary coming to the wedding. She’s in Australia!
  2. We have _______ options for our next holiday and they all look good.
  3. _______ people visit Siberia in the winter because  it’s too cold.
  4. You have _______ time before the next class if you want to get a drink.
  5. Let’s spend _______ days reviewing the proposal as I don’t want to rush it.
  6. There’s _______ point in repeating yourself because she never listens!
  7. I have very _______ colleagues that I would trust in a crisis.
  8. _______ is known about the singer’s early life.
  9. Your dessert was delicious! Can I have _______ more, please?
  10. The staff training course takes _______ days to complete.
Check your answers!

A = any, some, some, any, any, any, any, some, some, any
B = many of, many, much, many, much of, much, much, many, much, many
C = little, a few, few, a little, a few, little, few, little, a little, a few

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