What are Quantifiers?

Published on: 12/09/2018 By
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Last Modified on: 26/09/2018

 

Quantifiers are very important words because they let us express the quantity of something. There are several quantifiers in English and they can be a little tricky to use. So here’s a description of each quantifier with examples to help improve your understanding of them.

What are Quantifiers?

A quantifier is a word that usually goes before a noun to express the quantity of the object; for example, a little milk. Most quantifiers are followed by a noun, though it is also possible to use them without the noun when it is clear what we are referring to. For example,

Do you want some milk? – Just a little. (It’s clear that I mean ‘a little milk’.)

There are quantifiers to describe large quantities (a lot, much, many), small quantities (a little, a bit, a few) and undefined quantities (some, any). There are also quantifiers that express the idea of a sufficient amount (enough, plenty).

There are some quantifiers that have a similar meaning but differ because one is used with countable nouns and the other is used with uncountable nouns. Countable nouns are things that we can count; for example, a table, two chairs. Uncountable nouns are things that we cannot count and only have a singular form; for example, some furniture, some fruit.

Let’s start by looking at quantifiers that express large quantities.

Much, Many, A lot (of)

We use many, much, a lot (of) to refer to big quantities. We use ‘many’ with countable nouns and ‘much’ with uncountable nouns, and we can use ‘a lot (of)’ with both countable and uncountable nouns. In modern English it is very common to use ‘a lot (of)’ in affirmative sentences instead of ‘many’ and ‘much’.

Here are some examples:

  • There are many things to do today.
  • We have a lot of time left, don’t worry.
  • Many people take the train to work.
  • Much Italian wine is sold abroad.
  • She plays a lot of sport.
  • When we want to emphasize a really big quantity we can add ‘so’ in front of ‘many’ and ‘much’. For example:
  • There were so many passengers on the train, it was difficult to get off.
  • She had so much work to do, she stayed at the office until midnight.  

A Few, A Little, A Bit (of)

To talk about small quantities we can use ‘a few’ and ‘a little’. We use ‘a few’ with countable nouns and ‘a little’ with uncountable nouns. It’s also possible to use ‘a bit’ with uncountable nouns, but it is more informal.

Here are some examples:

  • We need a few coins for the car park.
  • Would you like a little milk in your coffee?
  • They ate a few biscuits with their tea.
  • The engine needs a little oil.

When we want to refer to a small quantity with a negative sense, we use ‘few’ and ‘little’ without ‘a’. For example:

  • Few trains arrive on time. (A small number of trains arrive on train which is a  bad thing.)
  • Little attention is given to the problem of parking. (A small amount of attention is given to this problem and it’s not good.)

Some, Any

When we want to refer to a plural noun or an uncountable noun, without giving a specific quantity, we use ‘some’ and ‘any’. We use ‘some’ in affirmatives and ‘any’ in questions and negatives.

Here are some more examples:

  • We have some free time later this afternoon.
  • She doesn’t want any coffee.
  • Do they need any bread?
  • I went to some meetings in Rome last week.
  • Will there be any managers at the party?

EXCEPTION!

As is common in English, there is an exception to this rule. When we make requests and offers, we usually use ‘some’ instead of ‘any’. For example:

  • Can I have some water please?
    Would you like some chocolates?

Enough, Plenty (of)

The words ‘enough’ and ‘plenty’ express the idea of being a sufficient quantity. Both words can go with countable and uncountable nouns. We use ‘plenty (of)’ to mean there is more than a sufficient quantity of something. For example:

  • I need more plates. – No, we don’t. There are plenty!
  • Slow down. We’ve got plenty of time to get to the station.
  • We use ‘enough’ to express the idea of having, or not having, a sufficient quantity. For example:
  • I think we have enough vegetables so I won’t buy any more.
  • But we don’t have enough fruit. Let’s get some more.

Questions about Quantity

When we want to ask the quantity of something, we use ‘how much’ or ‘how many’.

Here are some other examples:

  • How many times have you visited Rome?
  • How many people were at the meeting?
  • How many chairs do we need?
  • How much time have you got?
  • How much bread does he eat?
  • How much petrol shall I buy?

We also use ‘how much’ when we ask the cost of something. For example:

  • How much do these melons cost?
  • How much does this sofa cost?
  • How much are those gloves?

 


 

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Mary Milne avatar

Mary Milne

Author of this post

Mary Milne has worked for Wall Street English for 20 years. After studying at the University of Bristol and subsequently doing a CELTA course, she began her career in teaching. Over the years she has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in ESL and has worked as an Online Community Manager, and author for Wall Street English International and Pearson, writing informative educational content. She dedicates most of her free time to music, playing in a band and singing in a choir.

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