November 18, 2017

What is the difference between "few" and "a few"? Find out

Sometimes, our utterances or sentences convey meanings that are totally different from our original thoughts due to our inappropriate use of words. This is always the case when we are to choose between two words that are morphologically identical but semantically different. Examples of such words are "a few and few", "a little and little". These words might look alike on the surface but do not carry the same meaning; hence, we should apply ultimate carefulness when using them.

Few, a few, little and a little function as quantifiers when they precede nouns. They tell the quantity of the nouns that follow them. In order not to deviate from the thematic preoccupation of this article, only "a few" and "few" will be discussed.
What is the difference between "few" and "a few"? Find out

Both "a few" and "few" mean small quantity and are generally used with countable nouns. In English, countable nouns are nouns that can take plural markers; e.g., chair/chairs; man/men; lady/ladies; church/churches etc. So, you can say "few books", "a few men", "few chairs" etc. 

However, “few” is used when the quantity of the item is so small that it is almost insignificant. “Few” shows that the quantity of the item is small and can't be useful for its purpose. In a nutshell, "few" conveys dissatisfaction and a negative idea.

On its part, “a few” refers to a significant number which can be used for a purpose. When a speaker makes use of "a few" before an item, he/she tries to show that such item can adequately serve its purpose although its quantity is small. For example, a student who has a small quantity of books can say "I have a few books" if he/she knows that the books are enough for passing his/her exams. "A few" conveys satisfaction and a positive idea.

Sentence examples
1. Few were present. (Not many at all)

2. A few persons were present. (Not many, but can serve the purpose)

3. I have few shirts. (Not many at all)

4. I have a few shirts. (Not many, but enough for the necessary outings)

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