I recently wrote a language piece on how to say ‘a lot’ in Italian, today we are going to look at the opposite - how to say ‘a little’, ‘a bit’ and ‘a few’ in Italian. How would you say, for example, ‘Would you like to taste a bit of cheese?’, or ‘I only speak a little Italian’? These are called quantifiers and it can be helpful to know how to use them correctly when speaking Italian.

You may have come across the word ‘poco’ already.

It means a small amount of something and can be translated as ‘little’ or ‘few’ or even ‘not much’, depending on the context. It can be used as an adjective, which means it describes a noun. In this case, it has to agree in gender and number with the thing it describes.

Let’s look at some examples:

Ho poco tempo oggi - I don’t have much time today / I have little time today
Ho poca esperienza all’estero - I don’t have much experience abroad / I have little experience abroad
Ci sono pochi libri qui - There are not many books here / There are only a few books here
Ho portato poche cose - I only brought a few things / I didn’t bring many things

When poco is used an adverb it doesn’t need to agree in gender or number, for example:

Parlo poco spagnolo - I only speak a bit of Spanish / I only speak a little Spanish / I don’t speak much Spanish
Dormono poco - They sleep a little / they don’t sleep much
Lavoro poco in questo periodo - I’m not working much at the moment / I’m only working a little at the moment

You may have also heard the expression ‘un po’’, this is a shortened version of ‘poco’ but the meaning is slightly different. It means a bit of something, and can be translated as ‘some’ or ‘a bit’. If you’re writing it, you need to put the apostrophe after the o. Otherwise you’ll be referring to the river Po in northern Italy!

Let’s look at some of our previous examples and see how the meaning changes with un po’:

Ho un po’ di tempo oggi - I have some time today
Ho un po’ di esperienza all’estero - I have some experience abroad / I have a bit of experience abroad
Parlo un po’ di spagnolo - I speak a bit of Spanish / I speak some Spanish
Lavoro un po’ in questo periodo - I am working quite a bit at the moment

If you’d like to talk about a small amount of food or drink, you can also use one of these options:

Un pezzetto - a small piece
Vorrei solo un pezzetto di pizza - I would only like a small piece of pizza

Un goccio - a small amount of drink
Mi dai un goccio d’acqua? - Can I have a little bit water? / Can I have a drop of water?

Un dito - a small amount of wine
Vuoi del vino? - Would you like some wine?
Per me solo un dito di vino, grazie -  Just a drop of wine for me, thanks