Quantifiers

What are quantifiers?

We use quantifiers before a noun, an article or a determiner to talk about quantity and amount. Common quantifiers include some/any, much/many, (a) few/(a) little, lots of/a lot of and enough.

Knowing when to use which quantifier can be tricky, so use Lingolia’s quick and easy examples to master the difference, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Sweden is practically a cash-free society. Most people do not carry any coins or cash.

Most Swedes say that there are few disadvantages to being cashless. However, some people say that credit cards and contactless payment don’t offer enough security. A few people say that they are unhappy because there are too few possibilities to use cash.

There are not many Swedish businesses that still use cash, because most of them believe it has little benefit.

Most Swedish people say that they have a lot of flexibility thanks to this new system, and they think that lots of other countries will follow this trend.

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How to use quantifiers

Choosing the correct quantifier depends on whether the noun it refers to is countable or uncountable. We also have to consider whether the quantifier introduces a noun with an article (the) or a determiner (these, those, yours etc.).

lots of/a lot of

Lots of and a lot of are the most flexible quantifiers in English and therefore two of the most important. We can use them in positive sentences, negatives and questions and with all types of nouns, as well as before articles and determiners. They are more or less interchangeable, although a lot of is used more frequently.

Example:
They have a lot of/lots of flexibility. (positive sentence, uncountable noun)
I don’t have a lot of/lots of coins in my wallet. (negative sentence, countable noun)
Are there a lot of/lots of possibilities to pay by card in your country? (question, countable noun)

There are many other ways to say lots of, such as plenty of, a great deal of, loads of etc. Read more about them here.

much/many

Much and many both mean a large amount of something, but we use much with uncountable nouns and many with countable nouns.

Examples:
Swedes don’t carry much cash.
There are not many places that still accept cash.

Generally, we use much and many in negative sentences and questions. Using much and many in positive sentences sounds formal, so in everyday English we form these sentences with a lot of/lots of.

Examples:
There are many issues with the system. → There are a lot of/lots of issues with the system.

However, if we add so/too to much and many we can use them in positive sentences as well as negatives and questions. So and too add emphasis; so much/many means a very large amount of something, while too much/many is more negative and suggests more than is needed.

Examples:
Carrying too much cash can be dangerous.
Contactless payment has so many advantages.

Read more about much, many and a lot of.

few/little

The quantifiers (a) few and (a) little act as opposites to much, many and a lot of/lots of; they express a small amount of something and are equivalent to almost none. We use (a) few with countable nouns and (a) little with uncountable nouns.

Examples:
There are few advantages to going cashless.
Most see little benefit in offering cash payments.

Like with much and many, we can add so/too to few and little for emphasis. So few/little express a very small amount of something, while too few/little indicate that the amount is less than needed.

Examples:
There are so few advantages to cash.
There is too little support for the old system.

A few and a little mean a small number of things, they express a larger amount than few and little alone.

Examples:
A few people say that they are unhappy.
I have a little cash in my wallet.

Read more about the quantifiers few and little.

some/any

We can use the quantifiers some and any with both countable and uncountable nouns. Some is used in positive sentences and questions, while any is used in negatives and questions.

Examples:
Some people say that credit cards are unsafe.
Most people do not carry any cash.
Do you have any change?

Some and any in questions

We can use both some and any in questions. The difference is that some is only used in questions that express an offer or a request where we expect the answer to be yes.

Compare:
I haven’t looked at the menu yet, do you have any vegan options?
The speaker is unsure of the answer, it may be no.
The menu looks great, could I have some tap water please?
Although the speaker hasn’t looked at the menu, it’s highly likely that the restaurant has tap water, meaning that the expected answer to the request is yes.
Compare:
I’m new to the area, are there any cash machines nearby?
The speaker does not know the area so is not sure, the answer could be no.
Those bags look heavy – would you like some help?
The speaker is making an offer, given that the bags are heavy and difficult the speaker expects the answer to be yes.

Read more about some/any.

enough

We use enough in positive sentences, negatives and questions to say that there is a sufficient amount of something.

Example:
Credit cards and contactless payment don’t offer enough security.

Quantifiers with of

We can combine the quantifiers much/many, (a) few/(a) little, some/any and enough with of to introduce a noun preceded by an article (the), a determiner (their, these, your etc.) or a personal pronoun (them, us etc.).

Examples:
Some of the Swedes still prefer cash.
not: Some the Swedes still prefer cash.
A few of them are unhappy with the cashless system.
Many of their issues are related to security.

A lot of and lots of can be used with both types of nouns and before articles and determiners.