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A Few Too Few

What are the rules for FEW vs. A FEW?

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Here is my take:

"Few" means small number.
As in: "there were very few people in the theater."
"A few" means 2 or 3.
As in: "there were only a few people in the theater."

Dyske November 14, 2002, 12:20pm

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I agree with the above. "few" is used to describe how many people are there. "A few" is used as sort of a noun. But they basically mean the same thing. Many times in English, phrases are shortened. So "a few" probably was originally said as "a very few".

purpledragon_13 November 22, 2002, 9:48pm

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"Few" is the opposite of "many"; it means the number is smaller than expected:
"Many people are invited, but few came."

"A few" is the opposite of "none at all"; it means "a small number of." So it sounds weird to say:
"Many people are invited, but a few came."

Ian L February 2, 2003, 10:11pm

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This is a good one! I think that you might think of it this way: few and 'a few' are the same thing, but use 'a few' if it is somehow qualified, e.g., '...but ONLY a few came.' vs. '...but few came.'. As a final note, if it were only 2 people, then most would say '...only a couple of people...', although 'few' is still correct.

owl March 19, 2003, 1:48pm

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Why focus on people? Maybe inanimate objects might offer some fresh perspective.

"A few tables were placed in the banquet hall, but few of the guests dared sit at them."

I would tend to say that "a few" refers to "a small number of"... while "few" means "less than expected".

rostor April 10, 2003, 10:44am

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Don't ask people where I'm from. Around here folks use the colloquialism "a couple few" when referring to an indefinite number of items as few as two and as many lot, I guess. Sure, it sounds succinct, but couple it with the lazy pseudo-southern PA drawl and yew got yerself quite a phrase, boy howdy.

paul March 12, 2006, 4:07pm

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errrr how about if i say " there are few too applicants applied for this course, please select another course" what would be the meaning for "few too" here

doom_boom65 August 14, 2007, 1:58am

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Tanwir, I think you got that a little garbled. No one would say "there are few too applicants..." I think you meant "there are too few applicants..."
"Too few" means "not enough".
compare "many" = a lot, "few" = a small number.
Then compare "too many" = an unacceptably large number,
"too few" = an unacceptably small number.

porsche August 15, 2007, 5:10am

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Owl, The colloquialism, "a couple of" doesn't necessarily mean two. It can also mean "a small indeterminate number; two or more", just like "a few". I'm afraid if you really want to specify "two", you just have to say "two".

porsche August 15, 2007, 5:16am

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