Lesson 20: Four Ways to Express A Little Amount in Chinese
We use ‘a few’ and ‘a little’ to suggest not much of something in English. However, ‘a few’ is used for countable, while ‘a little’ is for uncountable things. How about in Chinese? Let’s learn how to express ‘a few things’, ‘a little thing’, and ‘some things’ in Chinese!
Literally meaning: few, less, to lack
少 (shǎo), which is an adjective, is used to state that an amount of something is few/less.
Lái de rén bǐ wǒmen yùliào de shǎo.
The number of people coming is less than we expected.
Jīnnián cóng zhōngguó lái de yóukè shǎo le xǔduō.
There are fewer tourists coming from China this year.
You would likely to hear a command to ‘do something less’ using 少 (shǎo).
Structure: 少 + Verb
Shǎo kàn nàxiē liánxùjù, duō dú diǎn shū.
Do not watch too much those series, read more books.
Shǎo shuō diǎn huà, jìdé zhèlǐ shì túshū guǎn.
Speak less, remember that this place is a library.
We can also use the degree adverb 很 (hěn) before the word 少 (shǎo) to express the adverb of frequency ‘rarely/seldom’.
Structure: 很 + 少
Zhè lǐ hěn shǎo xià xuě.
It rarely snows here.
Wǒ hěn shǎo chī zǎocān.
I rarely eat breakfast.
Literally meaning: a little, somewhat, too
In fact, 稍 (shāo) is an adverb, which can also come together with additional words as in 稍微 (shāo wēi): a little bit and 稍稍 (shāo shāo): a little, slightly.
Zhège fāngfǎ hé zhīqián de shāo yǒu bùtóng.
This method is slightly different from the previous one.
Zhè dào cài zuò dé hěn hào chī, jiùshì shāowéi yǒudiǎn là.
This dish is delicious, just a little bit spicy.
一点 [yī diǎn]
Literally meaning: a bit, a little
一点 [yī diǎn] or 一点点 [yī diǎn diǎn] can be used alone or along with another part of speech, to answer ‘a little’. For examples:
Nǐ chī wǔfànle ma?
Have you eaten lunch?
I ate a little.
Nǐ lèile ma?
Are you tired?
yī diǎn diǎn
A little bit.
一些 (yī xiē)
Literally meaning: some, a few, a little
一些 (yī xiē) is used to indicate a small number of countable things. In term of the amount, 一些 (yī xiē) is more than 一点 [yī diǎn]. How do they differ?
Wǒ dàile yī xiē dàngāo. Měi yīgèrén kěyǐ ná yīkuài.
I brought some cakes. Each people can take a piece.
Zhè kuài dàngāo shízài shì tài hào chīle! Bùzhī bù jué zhǐ shèng xià zài pánzi lǐ de zhème yīdiǎn.
This cake is really delicious! Unconsciously, there is only a little left on the plate.
Did you notice the difference?
一些蛋糕 (yī xiē dàn gāo) is used to explain a few pieces of cakes – for example, two or three pieces of cake.
一点蛋糕 [yī diǎn dàn gāo] is used to explain a little amount, as in a portion of one single cake.