All about quantifiers in English

All about quantifiers in English

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 10, 2022

The English language is so much fun to learn, but it can be a little frustrating because sometimes it doesn’t make much sense. It has many nuances, and learning all of them takes time and dedication. That’s why we have plenty of articles here on Lingoda to make language-learning less infuriating.

Quantifiers in English explained

As we can see from the introduction, quantifiers are adjectives used to express the quantity of the noun they follow. While they refer to an unspecified quantity, they still help us better understand the amount of what we’re talking about.

Quantifiers can refer to big amounts (lots of, many), small amounts (few, a little), or undefined quantities (some, any). There are also quantifiers that express the entire amount of the noun they refer to (all, none), comparison (less, more) or a sufficient quantity (enough, plenty).

To make things a bit more simple, I’ll go over how each type works.

Quantifiers for big amounts

The quantifiers to express big amounts are:

  • Many
  • Much
  • A lot of (or lots of)

“Many” is used with countable nouns, while “much” is used with uncountable nouns. “A lot of” can be used to describe both countable and uncountable nouns. 

How to use quantifiers for big amounts

You use these quantifiers when you refer to a big quantity of the noun compared to what’s expected. However, what’s expected is entirely subjective, so be careful, there could be a misunderstanding if used in the incorrect context

Check the following examples:

  • I have many friends.
  • How much money do you need?
  • You ate lots of sweets yesterday.

Do you see what I mean with the amount being subjective? What do “many friends” or “a lot of sweets” mean? They don’t specify an exact number. To me, “many friends” could be 10, while for someone else it might be 5, or 20. 

Quantifiers for small amounts

The quantifiers to express small amounts are:

  • A bit of (or bits of)
  • A little of (or little)
  • A few (or few)

How to use quantifiers for small amounts

You use these quantifiers when you refer to a small quantity of the noun compared to what’s expected. 

Just like the quantifiers for big amounts, these are subject to interpretation. 

Check the following examples:

  • Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
  • There is a little food left in the fridge.
  • I’ve had to deal with a few issues over the past three days.

Quantifiers for unspecified amounts

The quantifiers to express unspecified amounts are:

  • Some
  • Any

“Any” is more common in questions and negative clauses, while “some” is mostly used in affirmative ones.

How to use quantifiers with unspecified amounts

You use these quantifiers when you expect a normal amount of something. What is normal? I can’t tell you, it depends on the context. If someone asks you the following question:

  • Can you give me some water?

You wouldn’t give them 5 litres of water – perhaps you’d give them a glass of water, or an entire bottle. Anything more wouldn’t be a normal amount.

Some more examples:

  • I don’t have any issues with your proposal.
  • Sarah gave me some money to buy John a gift.
  • Do you have any questions?

While “some” and “any” refer to unspecified amounts, nowadays they are almost exclusively used to talk about smaller quantities.

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Quantifiers for the entire amount

The quantifiers to express the entire amount are:

  • All
  • No (or none)

It might seem weird to include “no” and “none” in this category, but when there is none of something, it means that the entire amount is gone.

How to use quantifiers for the entire amount

You use these quantifiers when you are referring to every single person or thing you are talking about.

  • I love all cats.
  • She has no sympathy for his loss.

When you say you love all cats, you are expressing your appreciation to every single cat in the world. 

When you say someone has no sympathy for someone else, the subject has no feelings for the other person.

Quantifiers of comparison

These are the quantifiers to express comparison:

  • Less
  • More

How to use quantifiers of comparison

Quantifiers of comparison are used to compare things.

  • You should add more spices.
  • I trust the new doctor less than the previous one.

In both cases, there is a term for comparison (spices and trust), and the quantifier helps us express how we feel about it. 

In the first sentence, you want more spices than there are currently in your food. In the second sentence, the level of trust you have for the new doctor is lower than what you had for the old one.

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Quantifiers of sufficiency

The quantifiers to express sufficiency are:

  • Plenty
  • Enough

How to use quantifiers of sufficiency

These quantifiers are used when you want to express that there is as much of the name as needed or wanted. You don’t need to add or remove anything.

  • I have eaten enough.
  • Pluto has plenty of food for the night.

In both sentences, the quantifier tells us that the amount of food for the subject is perfect. In the first sentence there was enough to fill up the subject, while in the second one there is enough for Pluto to eat throughout the night. Neither needs more or less.

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