If I understand correctly, мало means "little" or "few", for example: Things are not going well for Peter. He has little money and few friends (=not much money and not many friends). This is negative. Compare with: Things are going better for Peter now. He has a little money and a few friends (=some money and some friends ). This is positive. Can someone confirm that this is немнога in Russian? "
Hello Peterviuz. I asked a question above on this, so I'm not an authority on the matter, but having moved a little further through the course since, and spent a good bit of time Skyping and instant-messaging native speakers, I think, in the positive context you mentioned above, несколько (several) might be the correct word. Also, I don't know for sure but I suspect that немного is the opposite of много and has a similar meaning to мало. Having tested it on a few occasions, it seems to me that мало has an inference of "too little" or "too few", whereas немного perhaps just means "little or not a lot" whether there's "too" few or "too" little, or not. I could be talking rubbish though, but until a native speaker ventures to answer this question, it's the best I can do :-)
Oh, the difference between мало, немного и несколько usually strongly depends on the context. Generally you can say that мало is insufficient, немного - not many, несколько - several. Your example with little money and a few friends is really good. If you say У него мало денег и друзей, likely I will understand it in the negative way.
Немного друзей sounds strange. But I can't explain it properly... It is ok to say немного яблок, немного денег, немного книг, but it is strange for немного людей, немного собак. It sounds like you want to know how to cook dogs, ask the receipt and I answer you: you should add a few dogs (добавь немного собак) =D For animate nouns you should use несколько instead of немного. But also there are some exclusions! For example, this dialog is ok: -У тебя много друзей? -Нет, не много. (no, I not a lot) In this case не is separated from много and не много means "not a lot". While немного is several.
In the same time you can use несколько for all countable nouns, and I would say that for them usually мало < немного ~ несколько.
If you say У него есть немного денег и несколько друзей , I can't understand definitely if it is good or not. For example, у него не много денег и друзей, а мало is in negative "he has not a lot of money and friends but too little". But if you say Он счастливчик! у него есть немного денег и несколько друзей, а у нее нет ничего и никого I will understand it in positive way (for the boy) as He is lucky! He has a little money and a few friends, but she has nothing and nobody...
Sorry if I confused you more, I can't put it in the theory
So to clarify, does мало mean "less than the amount required" as per the discussions above/below or "not very many"? I am confused because "few" has numerous connotations in English, one of which is "three", another is a suggestion of "less than the amount required" but only by indirect implication usually resulting from British etiquette, and "a few" can even mean "more than enough" in certain circumstances).
Мало лука- little onion, while "few onions", or should rather be, "a few onions"- несколько луковиц. Мало means "little" as in "too little", this translation into English is not good at all, doesn't define the meaning of "мало" at all. I am a native Russian speakers, and fluent in English.
The previous excercise I got was 'у нас мало лука'. I translated this as 'we have few onions'. This was counted wrong. The correct translation (according to DL) was 'we do not have many onions'. So obviously I translated this excercise as 'not many onions'. Which was then counted wrong... Sigh.
Please PLEASE DL at least be consistent in your translations...