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Serenity Carr, Assistant Editor
The Difference Between "Few" and "A Few"
Friday July 22nd 2016
Question
What is the difference between "few" and "a few"?  — Felipe , Mexico
Answer

Few means "not many (people or things)." It is used to say that there are not a lot of people or things. A few means "some (people or things)." It is used to say that there are a small number of people or things. Below are some examples showing how each is used.

 

I have a few [=some/a small number of] friends.

I have few friends. [=I do not have many friends]

 

A few people [=some people] arrived early.

Few people [=not very many people] arrived early.

 

A few of the students [=a small number of the students] forgot to bring their books to class.

Few (if any) of the students forgot to bring their books to class. [=not a lot of the students forgot; many of them remembered]

 

Most of his books are boring, but there are a few that I like. [=I like a small number of them]

Most of his books are boring. There are few that I like. [=there are not many that I like]

 

The difference in meaning is subtle, but usually few puts a little more attention on the negative—that there is not a large number (of people or things). A few puts a little more attention on the positive—that there is a small number (of people or things).

I hope this helps.

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