מעט : little or a little ?

hadronic

Senior Member
French - France
Hello,

I looked up the word מעט in all my dictionaries, with the corresponding English "little"/"few" and French "peu", and every time it's the same thing : looks like מעט renders both "little/few" and "a little/a few/some", without any way to distinguish between the two meanings.

Ex:
יש לי מעט כסף : "I have little money (so I'm in trouble)" or "I have a little money (so I'm ok)" ?
אמור מעט ועשה הרבה : say little and do a lot.
תישאר מעט ! : stay a little !
היא הפיקה אך מעט טובה מניסואיה : she got little out of her marriage.

Moreover, how would you render the following sentences ? I don't find my dictionaries satisfactory on those :
He knows little French.
He knows a little French.
C'était peu intéressant / it was little interesting (?).
C'était un peu intéressant / it was a little interesting.

Thank you !
 
  • ystab

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    I can't think of a way to distinguish between the two meanings, except for tone and context. The word קצת or קמעה (high register) might work for a little. Also, you might want to consider the negative approach, e.g.: אין לי כמעט כסף (I barely have any money), היא לא הפיקה כמעט דבר מנישואיה (she barely got anything out of her marriage), הוא לא יודע כמעט צרפתית (he barely knows any French), זה לא היה מעניין כמעט (it was barely interesting).

    A few remarks regarding your translations, if I may:
    1. הישאר is the imperative form of נשאר, while תישאר is the future form (indeed, sometimes used as imperative).
    2. נישואיה and not ניסואיה.
    3. טובה is redundant here.
     
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    hadronic

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Thank you.
    I see you use כמעט in the meaning of "a lot". Doesn't it mean "almost" ?
    I would have said, using the negative approach :
    אין לי הרבה כסף.
    היא לא הפיקה הרבה מנישואיה.
    הוא לא יודע הרבה צרפתית.
    זה לא היה מעניין מאוד.

    Regarding your remarks : except for my typo ש/ס, all examples and translations have been taken from actual dictionaries.
    Oxford, in particular, always gives very weird translations (not natural, very wordy), that I'm inclined to not trust.
    For instance, they translate "he knows little French" by יש לו ידיעה קלושה בלבד בצרפתית, they lexicalize the feature, instead of keeping its purely grammatical aspect. This kind of translation in no way helps translate other occurrences of "little".
     
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    origumi

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Exact answer would require English/French knowledge beyond my capacity. I can only say that in Hebrew we have מעט, קצת, שמץ, קמעא, קומץ, קורט, קמצוץ, זעיר מעט, טיפה, טיפטיפה, and so on, and we use them in the appropriate situations. Not sure if there's 1-1 mapping to English "little" vs. "a little".
     

    ystab

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    I see you use כמעט in the meaning of "a lot". Doesn't it mean "almost" ?
    I would have said, using the negative approach :
    אין לי הרבה כסף.
    היא לא הפיקה הרבה מנישואיה.
    הוא לא יודע הרבה צרפתית.
    זה לא היה מעניין מאוד.

    Indeed it means almost, and in this negative context, almost any - "I don't have nearly (almost) any money." Thus, it emphasizes how little the amount of money is, more than "I don't have much (a lot of) money."
     

    hadronic

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Not sure if there's 1-1 mapping to English "little" vs. "a little".

    One of the most difficult part I find about Hebrew is actually the plethora of noun quantifiers, it's easy to get lost.
    But, regardless of the many words to say a lot or few, 3 distinct universal (my opinion...) categories should come up :
    - little, few, not much, not very : small amount or strength, deemed insufficient.
    - a little, a few, some, couple, quite : small to medium amount or strength, with quite neutral / factual connotation.
    - a lot, plenty, very, many : large amount or strength.
    Within each category, depending on the language, you'll have specific words for countables, uncountables, noun quantifiers, adjective quantifiers, verbs quantifiers, what have you..., but I think each of these categories has to be unambiguously expressible in all languages without crossover.
    For instance, I find very weird that יש לי מעט כסף could mean both "I have little money" and "I have a little money". In the former, if you're told so by a friend, you would give him money (well, if you wanna help :)), in the latter, you wouldn't. It would be like mixing אנשים מעטים יודעים את האמת (select) and אנשים אחדים יודעים את האמת (factual).
     
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    Tararam

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Ben, en ce qui concerne les phrase en français:
    C'était peu intéressant = זה בקושי היה מעניין
    C'était un peu intéressant = זה היה מעט מעניין/זה היה מעניין במקצת

    Quant aux pharses du genre de: “
    il connaît peu le français/il connaît un peu le français“, je dirais qu’on les traduira dans ce cas en employant “מעט“ (un peu), et “מעט מדי“ (peu, voire, trop peu.)

    Je ne crois pas qu’il y ait deux équivelants complets en hebreu pour “peu“ et “un peu“.

    Il y a de différentes situations où on emploie/choisit des mots qui conviennent le mieux à l’idée.
    En gros, je pense que “מעט“ et “מעט מדי“ communiquent plustôt bien cet idée. Pour le reste, je me penche vers “בקושי“ pour les cas de “peu“ (sans “un“), qui est proche de “guère“. ils ne veulent pas dire exactement la même chose, mais je crois qu’à la fin, les deux indiquent que la quantité est trop basse.
     

    hadronic

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Thank you all for your explanations !
    I understand that there are many work-arounds, but that מעט inherently is ambiguous.
     

    JAN SHAR

    Member
    pashto
    I think that in modern Hebrew we usually hear קצת. You don't hear מעט that much, at least not in the sense of "a little". No one ever says אני מדבר מעט אנגלית
     

    Ali Smith

    Senior Member
    Urdu - Pakistan
    I think that in modern Hebrew we usually hear קצת. You don't hear מעט that much, at least not in the sense of "a little". No one ever says אני מדבר מעט אנגלית
    Well, there is at least one place where מעט is used in modern Hebrew: עוֹד מְעַט 'in a little while, soon'.
     

    Essex1

    Member
    English-USA
    I must relate: sitting in a hotel dining room in Tel Aviv, I was nursing a cup of coffee when a waitress approached me and asked I would like some more coffee "?עוד קפה".
    I intended to answer her in Hebrew "a little bit" (עוד קצת), instead I answered her "in a little while" (עוד מעת).
    Once I figured out why she walked away without pouring me a little more coffee, I understood the mistake I made and the difference between the two expressions.
     
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