Listen to the author reading this blog post:
I recently wrote a post on expressions that we use to convey that there is enough of something. Today I’m looking at the opposite – the way we talk about too little or too few of something.
Let’s start with the very frequent word lack, which is both a noun and a verb. We also use the adjective lacking, either saying that something valuable ‘is lacking’, or that someone or something ‘is lacking in’ a valuable quality:
I was shocked at the lack of knowledge.
Unfortunately, they lack sufficient training.
His management skills, however, were sadly lacking.
I don’t think she’s lacking in confidence.
Worryingly, water is becoming increasingly scarce in the region.
Both teams are used to playing before sparse crowds. / The soil is poor and vegetation is sparse.
The adjective scant means ‘very little and not enough’. It’s often used with abstract nouns such as ‘attention’, ‘reward’ and ‘comfort’. It goes before the noun:
Surprisingly, the affair received scant attention in the press. / Her comments will offer scant comfort to people who’ve lost all their savings.
It was hard to survive on their meagre rations./ She had to do something to supplement her meager wages.
There’s a desperate shortage of science teachers.
This whole region now faces a dearth of skilled workers.
Another formal noun for this is paucity. The phrase ‘paucity of’ often comes before uncountable nouns:
It has exposed the paucity of talent within the government. / It’s the paucity of imagination that is so shocking.
A recent report revealed severe staffing shortfalls in the sector.
Something needs to be done to address the worsening trade deficit.
Let’s have a look now at phrases in this area. If useful people or things are few and far between or thin on the ground, they exist only in small numbers. You can also say that they are in short supply:
Bargains these days are few and far between.
Reasonably priced hotels are thin on the ground in this part of the city.
Sadly, trained doctors were in short supply.
If something valuable such as space or time is at a premium, very little is available. In UK English, if too few things are available for the many people who want them, you might say they are like gold dust:
In an apartment of this size, space is at a premium. / Parking is at a premium in the shopping quarter.
Tickets for the event are like gold dust.
That concludes my post on ways of saying ‘not enough’. Make a note of these expressions and you will never lack alternatives for saying ‘too little’ or ‘too few’ again!