(A) Few | Definition, Uses & Examples
Few is a word meaning “not many” or “a small number of.” It’s used to refer to a nonspecific quantity of countable nouns (e.g., “few books”). Depending on how it’s used, “few” can be grammatically classified as a determiner, adjective, noun, or indefinite pronoun.
Few doesn’t refer to a specific number, and its correct use depends on context. For example, if you’re discussing something there are millions of, “few” could reasonably be used to refer to several hundred. If you’re discussing something there are forty of, “few” could be used to refer to three or four.
Few vs. a few
Few and a few are sometimes used interchangeably, but this is a mistake.
- Few means “not many” and is used to emphasize a (relative) lack of something.
- A few means “some” and is used to positively emphasize that the number to which it refers is more than two (although still unlikely to be a very large number).
Quite a few
Quite a few is positive in meaning—even more so than a few. It means “a lot” or “a relatively large number.”
A couple vs. a few
In its strictest sense, a couple is used to refer to two people or things. However, it’s often used interchangeably with a few to refer to a small but nonspecific number of people or things. Like a few, this phrase should be avoided in academic writing, as it’s overly vague.
A couple is usually followed by the preposition “of” and the noun indicating what there are a small number of.
Few vs. several
People sometimes confuse few and several, but they don’t mean the same thing.
- Few means “not many” and is used to emphasize the relative scarcity or lack of something.
- Several means “some” or “more than two but not many.” Its emphasis is positive rather than negative.
Few vs. little
Few and little have similar meanings, but they differ grammatically:
- Few means “not many” and is used to refer to the quantity of plural countable nouns (e.g., books, houses, leaves, people).
- Little means “not much” and is used to refer to the amount or degree of uncountable nouns (e.g. water, information, rice, copper).
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US vs. UK spellings
Frequently asked questions
- What is a synonym for “few”?
Some synonyms and near synonyms for few include:
- A minority of
- A small number of
- Hardly any
- Not many
- What does “a few” mean?
- How much is a few?
Although a few doesn’t refer to any specific number, it’s typically used to refer to a relatively small number that’s more than two (e.g., “I’m going home in a few hours”).
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