Few vs. A Few

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Today’s student question is “When do we use FEW vs. A FEW – what’s the difference?”

I’m happy to explain it in today’s ask the teacher video!

You can download 30+ past ask the teacher lessons by clicking here.

FEW & A FEW: Difference & Examples

FEW has a negative connotation, but A FEW has a positive connotation. Let’s see some examples:

  • I’m not very popular. I have few friends.
    (implying my small number of friends is a bad thing)
  • I’m thrilled that I’ve already made a few friends at school.
    (I still have a small number of friends, but it’s a positive connotation, it’s great that I have some friends instead of zero friends.)

Got it? Few – it’s small, it’s negative, it should be more. A few – it’s small, but it’s positive, it’s more than zero.

How many is a few?

“A few” It could be around 3-5 items, usually less than 10.

It somewhat depends on what we’re talking about:

  • If I say I read a few books this month, that’s probably around 3 books, since they take a while to read.
  • If I say I ate a few potato chips, that might be around 10 potato chips, which is a small amount compared to eating 20 or 30 chips.

Use FEW & A FEW with countable nouns

Remember we use few and a few with countable nouns (books, chips, friends).

With uncountable nouns, we use little and a little in a similar way:

  • I’ve been so busy, I had little time to prepare for the talk.
    (little time = negative connotation, not much or not enough)
  • I’m glad I had a little time to prepare for the talk before going on stage.
    (a little time = positive connotation, I’m glad I had some time, more than zero)

Hope that helps you understand when to use few vs. a few!