If you try to translate all the sentences below in French, you might get a bit muddled. Expressing quantity in French is tricky. The French have a specific list of words to communicate either vague or specific quantities.
‒I would like some water please!
‒Right away! Do you wish a bottle or a glass of water? And more wine?
‒No, no more wine, just a few glasses of water for everyone! And bring a slice of that beautiful looking apple pie…
Combien de… ?
One easy word that we learn quickly in French is combien de which means “how much” or how many”.
Combien d’eau voulez-vous ? = How much water do you want?
Vous voulez une table pour combien de personnes ? = You want a table for how many people?
The question combien de can trigger many possible answers and they can be vague with words like: a bit, a few, more, etc. Or they can be more specific such as: 1 kilo of, a slice of, etc.
Expressing quantities that are not specific
Let’s start with a list of words that express quantities that are not so specific. And note how these expressions of quantity end with de:
Assez de (enough):
J’ai assez d’argent. = I have enough money.
Beaucoup de (lots of):
Il y a beaucoup de bruit. = There is lot of noise.
Plus de (more of) :
Je voudrais plus de café. = I would like more coffee.
Ne… plus de (no more):
Je ne veux plus de café. = I don’t wan’t anymore coffee.
IMPORTANT NOTE: the pronunciation in “more” is plussss (we need to hear the “s”) whereas the pronunciation in “no more” is plu (as if the ‘s’ was dropped).
Moins de (less of):
Tu as moins de travail que moi. = You have less work than I do.
Un peu de (a bit of):
J’ai un peu de crème solaire. = I have a bit of sun lotion.
Trop de (too much of):
Tu rajoutes trop de sucre ! =you’re adding too much sugar!
Several words do not need de:
J’ai plusieurs amis à New York. = I have a few friends in New York.
Quelques ( a few):
J’ai quelques pommes dans le panier. = I have a few apples in the basket.
Aucun(e) (none at all):
Je n’ai aucune pomme dans le panier (that’s quite precise). = I have not a single apple in the basket.
Since we looked at the list of expressions of quantity, let’s try to translate these above requests for water written in the first paragraph:
‒I would like some water please. = J’aimerais un peu d’eau/J’aimerais de l’eau.
‒Right away! Do you wish a bottle or a glass of water? = Tout de suite ! Voulez-vous une bouteille ou un verre d’eau ?
And more wine? = Et plus de vin ?
‒No, no more wine, just a few glasses of water for everyone! = Non plus de vin ! Juste quelques verres d’eau pour tout le monde.
NOTE: The two different ways to say “I would like (some) water”. When you’re adding a quantity word such as un peu de, then de contracts with the word eau (d’eau). However, when you don’t add any quantity word, then you need to add the partitive article (le, la, les and with de, they become du, de la, des) before eau: je veux de l’eau (and not je veux d’eau).