Is "too few" equivalent to "not enough"?



Kindly, consider the image below:

enter image description here

Can I say for the glass in the middle: "too few water" instead of "not enough water"? Are they equivalent in meaning?

Laith Leo

Posted 2018-10-16T05:30:20.870

Reputation: 501

You seem to be looking at language from a math perspective. It's all depends on what you want to convey… not the outcome. If you want to say "there's too little water" in your native language, say "too little." If you want to say "there's inadequate water," say "not enough." :/ – XPMai – 2018-10-16T09:03:39.437

13"Too much" does not mean "more than we need". "Too much" means more than the maximum acceptable amount. "More than we need" means it's more than the minimum acceptable amount. – Jetpack – 2018-10-16T14:39:06.787

@Jetpack very good point... I didn't even think of that on my first reading. – Dean MacGregor – 2018-10-16T19:22:11.273

You could, technically speaking, say “too few water molecules”. – leftaroundabout – 2018-10-17T08:22:48.257



"few" is used with a countable noun: "There are too few apples in the box". This is equivalent to "not enough apples".

"Water" is not countable, so you cannot say "too few water".

You could use "little": There is too little water in the glass". This is equivalent to "not enough"

James K

Posted 2018-10-16T05:30:20.870

Reputation: 80 781

1Thank you. What I understand from your answer is that "too little water" is equivalent in meaning to "not enough water" as in the image, am I right? – Laith Leo – 2018-10-16T05:43:08.087

Are not both interchangable with "not enough", and therefore not quite equivalent? E. g. "There are not enough apples in the box". – Raimund Krämer – 2018-10-16T13:09:44.877

12@RaimundKrämer "too little" and "too few" are not interchangeable : when one is grammatically correct, the other isn't. The three of them have the meaning of "not enough...", but "too little" has the extra meaning "...of an uncountable thing" and "too few" "...of a countable thing" – Aaron – 2018-10-16T15:04:57.530

basically "too few" works for countable. "too little" for not countable. "not enough" in either situation. – None – 2018-10-17T06:39:31.640

@Aaron I agree with that and understand that "too little" and "too few" are not interchangable and mean different things. My question is whether both (independently) can be replaced with "not enough", as by my understanding both mean "not enough", even though in different contexts. "Not enough uncountable stuff, not enough countable things." I asked because the answer above implies that only the former is equivalent to "not enough". – Raimund Krämer – 2018-10-17T07:37:39.673

@RaimundKrämer You can replace "not enough" with either "too little" or "too few" depending on the context. You can always replace "too little" with not enough and similarly, "too few" with not enough. – Jasper – 2018-10-17T08:41:59.273


Few is used with countable nouns. Since water cannot be counted in itself, "too few water" is wrong.

However, "too few glasses of water" is correct since the number of glasses can be counted. Needless to say, the meaning changes from the original intention.


Posted 2018-10-16T05:30:20.870

Reputation: 1 844

1First, thank you for your answer. I already know that "few" is used for countable nouns; my question is: are they equivalent in meaning not in use? – Laith Leo – 2018-10-16T05:35:46.557

3"Too few water" is plain wrong. There is no meaning to it. So technically, it can never be equivalent to "not enough water". Can't compare wrong with right now, can we? – CinCout – 2018-10-16T05:37:19.420

2"alright" is nonstandard. – Acccumulation – 2018-10-16T14:47:29.203

1@LaithLeo: "... are they equivalent in meaning not in use?" Meaining: Each of them has the meaning "There should be more." Use: you must use "too few" if a countable noun (like apples), or "too little" if an uncountable noun (like water). In informal speech, "not enough" can be used for either. – Ross Presser – 2018-10-16T18:56:12.667


Many native speakers use enough for both countable and uncountable nouns.

... not enough water.

... not enough volunteers.

But too few is used only with countable nouns.

... too few volunteers.


Posted 2018-10-16T05:30:20.870

Reputation: 116 610

Just to add, sadly many native speakers don't use "few" when they should :P – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2018-10-17T09:20:17.930


As others said, "too little" is more appropriate because you use "little" for uncountable nouns. An extra point, though: In my opinion, "too little" is a bit stronger than "not enough". For example, "not enough" could be slightly less than enough (say 70-90% as a ballpark), but "too little" (or "too few" where appropriate) may mean even less than that (the second glass in your image.)


Posted 2018-10-16T05:30:20.870

Reputation: 11

1Weakly disagree. To me they're very close in strength. (Note that they both denote insufficiency with respect to the established benchmark, whatever that is. And both terms can be strengthened: "far too little" and "not nearly enough"--and both can be weakened: "a little too little" and "nearly enough".) – Mathieu K. – 2018-10-17T02:44:25.313