City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
0 like 0 dislike
asked Nov 22, 2022 in Questions about English Grammar by lswong85 (160 points)
edited Nov 22, 2022 by lswong85 | 649 views

1 Answer

0 like 0 dislike

Only countable nouns, such as lower, people, and hours, can be followed by "few" and "a few." The closer you look, the more similar they appear to be. One is positive, and the other is negative. While "few" emphasizes a few, virtually none, "a few" denotes "some." They ultimately say the opposite of what you intended.

The Usage of "few" and "a few" + N[C]

Countable nouns that are preceded by "few" or "a few" must be plural. “Few” have the negative connotation of "few, virtually nothing." "A few" implies "some, but not much," which has a positive connotation. Even though "a few" has an "a," "a few" has a more positive connotation than "few."

Before countable nouns, the quantifier "a few" is used, and it denotes "some." For instance, a small group, a short period of time, friends, and a few books. As a quantifier, "few" denotes "a little quantity of something." For instance, “A few of my pals reside in the New Territories.” It means several of my pals are residents of the New Territories. There are comparatively few prominences—almost none—in this area. Another illustration: “The floor has a few stains”. This time, "few" also refers to a small number of distinctions.

Example 1:

(1) A few students submitted their homework before the deadline.

(2) Few people students submitted their assignments before the deadline.

The first statement indicates that some students turned in their assignments on time, which is encouraging. It is advantageous that some pupils finish their work on time. The second sentence, however, indicates that few students turned in their homework, which is negative.

Example 2:

(1) The inveracity man has few friends.

This statement conveys the idea that the hypocrite has few friends. The term "hypocrite" has a bad connotation; based on common sense, dishonest people have few friends, thus the use of the number "few" is appropriate.

(2) I invited a few friends to my baptism.

This statement indicates that I asked some friends to celebrate my baptism, which is good. The word "a few" is correctly used.

A good memory trick is to remember that "a few" with plural countable nouns, can be used to modify things.  "A little, some," with singular uncountable nouns.  "Few" with plural countable nouns and used in formal contexts, to emphasize the number of objects "very," few, virtually none, after the preceding indefinite article "a." There is no issue applying, understanding this idea, and determining whether the modified noun is countable.

The phrases "few" and "a few" are sometimes confused, but they denote different numbers. It is easy to remember that shorter words denote fewer; in other words, two characters (a few) denote more than one character (few).


Jackendoff, R. S. (1968). Quantifiers in English. Foundations of Language, 422-442.

Moxey, L. M., & Sanford, A. J. (1986). Quantifiers and focus. Journal of semantics5(3), 189-206.

Peterson, P. L. (1979). On the logic of``few'',``many'', and``most''. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic20(1), 155-179.

Thompson, B. (1982). Syllogisms using``few'',``many'', and``most''. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic23(1), 75-84. 

answered Nov 22, 2022 by lswong85 (160 points)

1,616 questions

1,882 answers


15,645 users

1,616 questions
1,882 answers
15,645 users