Poco vs un po’: Italian grammar lesson

Lesson 27

Key Takeaways

A reader will learn the differences between the Italian expressions poco and un po’, their meanings, and how to use them correctly in various contexts.

  • Poco means “a little/very little” and indicates a small amount of something.
  • Un po’ means “a bit” and refers to an undetermined quantity that can be small or large, depending on the context.
  • When used with nouns, un po’ is always followed by di + noun to express a variable amount.
  • Poco changes form based on the grammatical gender and number of the noun it describes.
  • Examples illustrate how poco and un po’ can sometimes have almost opposite meanings.

Quick facts

What is the relationship between poco and po’ in Italian?

Po’ is a contracted form of poco, indicated by the omission of "co."

How does poco function as an adverb of quantity?

Poco is used to express a small amount, often translating to "a little" or "very little."

How does un po’ differ from poco?

Un po’ indicates an uncertain quantity that can be relatively small or large, depending on context.

Can un po’ express both small and large quantities?

Yes, un po’ can refer to an undetermined quantity that varies based on context.

How are poco and un po’ used with nouns?

Poco changes form based on gender and number, while un po’ is followed by "di + noun."

What grammatical changes does poco undergo with nouns?

Poco changes to poco, poca, pochi, or poche, depending on the noun’s gender and number.

How does un po’ di function with nouns?

Un po’ di is used to express an uncertain quantity, always followed by "di + noun."

Can you give an example of poco used with a noun?

"C’è poca benzina nel serbatoio" means "There's little fuel in the tank."

What does "Ho comprato un po’ di mele" mean?

It means "I bought a few apples," indicating a relatively small quantity.

How can poco and un po’ have opposite meanings?

Poco implies a very small amount, while un po’ can mean a relatively large amount, depending on context.

Audio images

🔊
Ho visto un po' di film.
🔊
Vorrei un po’ di zucchero.

Vocab

poco
un
po’
quantità
differenza
avverbio
aggettivo
singular
plurale
negazione
positivo
comparativo
superlativo
misura
tempo
frequenza
intensità
modifica
contesto
significato

Sentences

1. Ho poco tempo.

I have little time.

2. Vorrei un po' di pane.

I would like a little bread.

3. C'è poco zucchero nella dispensa.

There is little sugar in the pantry.

4. Puoi aspettare un po' per favore?

Can you wait a little, please?

5. Purtroppo c'è poco da fare.

Unfortunately, there is little to be done.

My Thoughts

A little / a little bit: Poco and un po’

Poco and un po are two expressions that mean “a little / a bit” in Italian.

Po’ is the contraction of the word poco – as the apostrophe indicates the omissions of the sound co – but despite this and despite looking very similar, these two expressions have different meanings and usage.

Poco and un po are both used as adverbs of quantity. These kinds of adverbs indicate the quantity of an action (the main verb of the clause) and are used to express magnitude or degree.

In general, these answer the question “how much?”.

🔊
Ho visto un po' di film.

Poco vs un po’: difference explained

Poco can be used to express a small amount of something. In English, it can be translated with “a little/very little”.

Ho fretta, ho poco tempo.

I’m in a hurry, I don’t have much time (= I have very little time).

Oggi ho avuto poco da fare a lavoro.

Today I didn’t have much to do at work (= I had little to do).

Marco è poco paziente.

Marco is not very patient (= only a little patient).

Un po’ is instead used to indicate an uncertain quantity. In English, it can be translated with “a bit”. Un po’ can be somewhat confusing for Italian learners.

Similarly to the English expression “a bit”, un po’ can express a relatively small or big undetermined quantity, and its correct interpretation depends on the context of the sentence.

Parli italiano? – Un po’.

Do you speak Italian? – A little bit.

Marco è un po’ impaziente.

Marco is a bit impatient.

🔊
Vorrei un po’ di zucchero.

Let’s compare poco and un po’

The differences explained in the previous section can be summed up by saying that poco usually means “a little/ very little” while un po means “a bit”, referring to an undetermined quantity that can be either small or big.

This means that un po’ and poco sometimes have almost opposite meanings!

Let’s compare the following two sentences:

Ieri ho avuto poco da fare = Yesterday I didn’t have much to do (= I had little to do)

Ieri ho avuto un po’ da fare = Yesterday I had quite a bit to do (= I had quite a lot to dorelatively big quantity)

🔊

Poco and un po’ + nouns

Poco and un po’ can also be used with nouns. In this case, they mean “a little/ a few/ a bit of”.

It should be noted that:

  • In this case, un po’ is always followed by the preposition di + noun. It is used to express an uncertain quantity.
  • When referred to a noun, poco is used as an adjective, and its form changes according to the grammatical gender and number of the noun. So, it can be: poco (masculine, singular), poca (feminine, singular), pochi (masculine, plural), poche (feminine, plural).

Let’s look at some examples of un po’ di:

Ho comprato un po’di mele.

I bought a few apples (= a bit of apples – a relatively small quantity).

Nella minestra c’è poco sale.

There’s (too) little salt in the soup.

C’è poca benzina nel serbatoio.

There’s (too) little fuel in the tank.

Poco vs un po’: Italian grammar

Poco and un po’ are two expressions in Italian that translate to “a little” or “a bit.

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Po’ is a contraction of poco, with the apostrophe signifying that the sound co has been left out.

Un po’s interpretation depends on the context and can refer to a small or large, undetermined quantity.

You can also use poco and un po’ with nouns. They mean “a little”, “a few,” or “a bit of” in this case.

The phrase “un po'” is always followed by the phrase “di + noun” and is used to express a variable amount.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

FAQs

How do you use un poco?

Poco is used as an adverb of quantity. It can be used to express a small amount of something. In English, it can be translated as "a little or very little".

What does Poco mean in Italian?

Poco is the opposite of molto or tanto (a lot, much, many) and means "little" or "few."

What does un po’ mean Italian?

Un po' means "a little a small quantity of."

Italian word of the day
aziende
Example
Dalla crisi, molte aziende hanno chiuso.
Because of the financial crisis, many companies shut down.
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7 Responses

  1. There is also ‘poco a poco’ (bit by bit, little by little, and/or, gradually) that I run into often.

    This reminded me of when I was in band, and we’d see the musical notation ‘poco a poco’ which is usually shortened to ‘cresc.

  2. re Ho fretto, ho poco tempo

    Does affretarsi have both Essere and Avere as an auxiliary verb, as conjugation tables suggest Essere is the Auxiliary verb, yet, more often I see “ho fretto” not “sono in fretto’ (while I understand Italians may in fact like to use ‘sono in fretto’ even when it’s not necessarily grammatically correct ?

    Grazie.

    1. Ciao Donald!

      Before answering your question, I must make a minor correction: in Italian, it’s fretta instead of fretto.

      It is correct to say avere fretta or essere in fretta and they are interchangeable. But affrettarsi, the reflexive form, has always essere as an auxiliary verb.

  3. In this case, un po’ is always followed by the preposition di + noun. It is used to express an uncertain quantity.
    But in the audio we found the expressions “ho un po’ sonno/ paura”. Are these exceptions to this rule about un po’ and nouns?

    1. E’ vero, in quelle espressioni è più naturale non usare “di”. Ma non è sbagliato usarlo. 😀

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