Little/a little, few/a few

In English, there is a difference between "a little milk" (meaning that one has some milk) and "little milk" (meaning that one has not much milk). The same is with "few" and "a few".

However, when Duolingo asks me to translate "Il y a peu de lait", I put it as "There is little milk", but it also suggests "There is a little milk". Am I right to guess that there is no difference between "little" and "a little" in French? Shouldn't I say "peu" for "little" and "un peu" for "a little"?

July 9, 2012


"a little milk" = "un peu de lait" "little milk" = peu de lait same meaning as in English.

July 9, 2012

@riclage: yes and no, because the devil is in the details. The French language is full of traps with as many rules as exceptions. However, the Duo rule is: please translate exactly what is written/said. On this one, you are lucky, the nuances between "a little milk" and "little milk" are identical in French between "un peu de lait" and "peu de lait". What is suggested in both languages is that "little milk" = "peu de lait" is more judgmental than "a little milk/un peu de lait". Paraphrazing the respective meanings may help : "not much milk/ pas beaucoup de lait" vs "a small quantity of milk/une petite quantité de lait". Have I been clear enough?

October 4, 2012

Then Duolingo was wrong to suggest also "a little milk" for "peu de lait", wasn't it?

July 9, 2012

yes, you are right !

July 9, 2012

Keep in mind that "peu" is both (1) a noun and (2) an adverb, as it is in English. There is practically no difference here in whether "peu" modifies the noun or adverb... the meaning comes across the same.

September 7, 2013
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