«лука» is genitive and «мало» (being an amount, like «много») takes the genitive. It would require the nominative form to be «у нас есть лук»
"есть" is seldom used with "много" and never with "мало". У нас есть книги. У нас (есть) много книг. Но у нас мало свободного времени, поэтому читать некогда. (We have books. We have lots of books. But we have little free time, hence no time to read.)
I don't think that's what he meant: you may be asked to fill a blank in this sentence where мало is, and есть is an alternative which may seem right but isn't. If есть were the correct answer, then лук would stay in nominative, but it doesn't, it's in its genitive form лука, which means the word filling the blank can either be the negative particle нет or a quantifier много/мало.
Still kinda hard to get right without having seen мало before, and not recalling what the plural of лук would be in this sentence with есть as the verb.
The Russian word лук when it means "onions" is a collective noun, so it doesn't have a plural form. The other meaning of лук is a bow (as in "bow and arrow") and the plural for it is луки.
An option as well. It seems, though, that native speakers of English tend to confuse "We have few"(=too small amount) with "we have a few" (=some amount"), so we changed the main translation to the negative (i.e. changed "few" to "not many").
Actually, we have several similar words. Мало, немного or немножко, несколько. Nouns in Russian can be countable and uncountable. Лук in this case is uncountable, so you can say мало or немного, but it is hard to get the difference even for a native speaker. Roughly, «У нас мало лука» means: «We run out of onions. Buy some more», while «У нас немного лука» means «We don't have much onions, but we still can cook something». Несколько is used for countable nouns and mean «some» or «few». You can say «у нас несколько луковиц», it is neutral and doesn't content any additional information. The question «Do you have any onions» is better to be translated as «У вас есть лук?/Есть ли у вас лук?»
Thanks so much for the explanation. I still can't get that you find that "not many" (so denying you have a lot) is the same than "a few" (that involves accepting you have a little). I imagine it should be similar like in height: being not so tall shouldn't mean you are short, or being not so short shouldn't mean you are tall. But I will asume it's a cultural difference.
"a few" and "a little" are definitely far from what you need. We only accept translations with "few", "little" and negative sentences with "not many/not much/not a lot of":
У меня мало времени → I have little time (a bit formal) / I don't have much time.
Some native speakers of English say that with proper intonation "a few" may mean the same as "few". Well, how would anyone know that you mean this specific intonation?
The Russian мало is the opposite of много. That is, много means "many, a lot: even more than is realistically required" whereas мало is "few, little: not enough for something; less than desired". Of course, both assume that a person considers amounts that fall within some range "normal".
Like «Нужно одолеть немало трудностей, чтобы выучить русский» — "One needs to overcome a lot of difficulties to learn Russian"
Maybe it is because we, Russians, want everything! We are not satisfied with "not many", we need it all:). By the way, we also have «немало», which looks like "not few", but means "a lot". It sounds official and widely used.
I wanted to reply Shady_arc's post, but the reply limit was reached... anyways, would "not enough" work as well? That's what I put and was rejected.
These are both ungrammatical. Moreover, neither есть nor один means "a small amount".
doesn't у нас есть лука mean we have onions, that is a grammatically correct sentence surely, so why is that wrong? I didn't get what I was supposed to translate it too so how am I wrong
лука is genitive case so it is not the correct case for "У нас есть лук". I didn't realize that мало is considered a negation, thereby requiring the genitive case, but apparently that is how it works in Russian.
It is not a negation. It is an amount. Compare the use to the the following sentences:
- У меня много лука. = I've got many onions.
- У меня много кошек. = I've got many cats.
- У меня куча лука. = I've got loads of onions.
- У меня есть мешок лука. = I've got a sack of onions.
In Russian, berries and also onions, potatoes, carrots, and beetroots are all mass nouns. "Berries" are understood in a layman's definition, so they include a lot of different small fruits like strawberries, plums, cherries, currants, blueberries, cranberries, geans and so on.
I answered "We don't have much onion." Since "лука" is uncountable, shouldn't this also be accepted?
"Onions" are countable in English. In Russian, though, капуста, картофель(картошка), морковь, лук, редис (редиска), свёкла, фасоль are mass nouns, as are all berries (e.g. вишня, клубника, слива, черешня, смородина, ежевика, рябина, крыжовник).
In English, "few [things]" means such a sparsity of items that there are almost none to be had, and certainly none to be shared.
"A few [things]" also indicates a sparsity of items, but connotes some greater amount than "few", so that there might be enough to share.
"We have few (мало) onions, and you can't have any of them because we need them all for ourselves."
"We have a few/some (немногго) onions, and I might be able to let you have one or two".
The thing that is confusing me is the немного looks like it's a combination of не + много = "not many", but the comments indicate that the moderators believe that "not many" is translated by мало rather than немного.
Also, In English, "not many" would lend itself much more to being equivalent to "some" or "a few", but the translation says that мало means "few" - which also means "not many".
I think that is wrong in English. "not many" is much more a synonym for "a few" and "some" than "few".
"Not many at all" or "almost none" is closer to what "few" means by itself.
That suggests to me that the translation of мало as "not many" is not correct.
Finally, the distinction between "few" and "a few" is so fine that it may be blurred or be non-existent, as either can be made to fit, depending on the context.
There is a difference between «У нас есть немного лука» and «Лука у нас не много». The former means “We have a few onions”, whereas the latter means “We have few onions [left]” / “We are running out of onions”. As you can see, the meaning changes depending on whether it is one word or two words and the intonation with which "немного"/"не много" is pronounced. Немного can also be used as an adverb meaning “a bit” / “a little”: «Я немного устал», «Подожди немного», «Отдохни немного» (“I’m a bit tired”, “Wait a bit”, “Take some rest”). However, when it is written as one word, немного never means “not much” or “not many” - to express that meaning, you have to write «не много». Obviously, it is not easy to distinguish between «немного» and «не много» in spoken language, so the word так is often inserted between не and много. The safest way to translate “not much” or “not many” into Russian is to say «не так много» or pronounce мно- in «не много» with a pitch fall.
That's informative, but if doesn't shed any light on where мало falls in this spectrum of sparsity. If «У нас есть немного лука» means "we have a few onions", in English that's synonymous with "we don't have many onions" - or less idiomatically, we have "not many" onions - which would be something like не много = "not many" - probably not good Russian grammar, but then etymology of words isn't a neat and tidy science. I find it difficult to believe that немного isn't a combination of of не + много, even though it doesn't actually mean "not many" in a strictly literal sense - but it certainly seems close.
Still, it's not at all clear how мало fits in here. Shady_arc appears to indicate that мало does not mean "few" but rather "a few" = "not many". That suggests that «У нас есть немного лука» means the same thing as «У нас есть мало лука» - that немного = мало in this context.
At least we've learned how to say "few onions" («Лука у нас немного»).
To this last point, I think your definitions fit well with my attempts to distinguish "few" from "a few". "Few" means something like "we're running out of".
Shady_arc is not write: мало does mean “few” (when used before countable nouns) or “little” (when is followed by an uncountable noun) , that’s what it means. “A few” can be translated into Russian as unstressed «несколько» (the stressed «несколько» is the equivalent of “several”) or «пара-тройка» or «два-три»/«две-три»/«три-четыре». «Немного» is a synonym of «мало» and they are used interchangeably, unless «немного» is followed by a verb - then it means “a bit”. Written as two words, «не много» means “not many” (fewer than expected) or “not just many” as in «не много, а очень много» (not just many, but a huge number). Being hard to distinguish from «немного», «не много» is not used very often, phrases like «не очень много» or «не так уж много» being more preferable. “We’re running out of” = «У нас кончается/кончаются». The phrase «мне мало + Gen case» means “I’m not happy with...”/“I want more...”. «Немало» means “quite a lot”/“quite a few”.
That means «У нас есть несколько луковиц» (or «У нас есть пара-тройка луковиц»).
"We do not have many onions." is translated as "У нас нет много лука". This is not the same. I think this answer should not be accepted.
"Нет" and "много" don't go together, so "У нас нет много лука" is simply ungrammatical. The negative of "много" is "не так много", so one can translate "We don't have many onions" as "У нас не так много лука" or "У нас не так много луковиц".
Неправильный перевод ! Так как написано означает не "мало лука", а "мало луковиц". Это принципиальная разница.