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Few vs. A Few: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 7, 2023
"Few" implies scarcity or almost none, while "A Few" suggests more than one or two but not a large number.

Key Differences

"Few" and "A Few" are quantifying terms used to describe the number of nouns, usually people or things. "Few" suggests a small number, often with a negative connotation implying not as much as may be desired; "A Few," however, while also indicating a small number, doesn't carry the same negative implication.
In usage, "Few" often conveys a sense of insufficiency or scarcity. For instance, if someone says, "Few people attended the event," it implies disappointment. On the other hand, "A Few" is more neutral or can imply sufficiency, as in "A Few people attended the event," suggesting that the attendance, while not large, was satisfactory.
Grammatically, "Few" and "A Few" are considered quantifiers; they give information about the number of something without specifying an exact figure. "Few" tends to be more subjective and can indicate almost none, while "A Few" more objectively suggests the presence of at least some or several.
"Few" is often used to emphasize the lack of something or a number smaller than expected, which can be relative depending on the context. Conversely, "A Few" indicates the presence of a small number or amount but doesn't emphasize the lack or scarcity; it's simply an acknowledgment of a limited number.
While both "Few" and "A Few" can be used in various types of sentences, their connotations differ significantly due to the presence or absence of the article "A." "Few" can suggest a problem or something lacking, while "A Few" is less likely to be received as a negative statement.

Comparison Chart


Negative, implies scarcity
Neutral, implies sufficiency

Grammatical Form

Quantifier with an article

Typical Usage

To indicate a smaller number than expected or desired
To indicate the presence of some, though not many

Contextual Implication

Often suggests insufficiency or disappointment
More objective, less emotionally charged


More subjective and vague
Slightly more specific due to the presence of "A"

Few and A Few Definitions


Used to express the scarcity of something.
Few people know the truth about the incident.

A Few

A small number, several.
She bought a few books to read.


Not many, but more than one.
Few students understood the complex theory.

A Few

More than two or three but not many.
A few days ago, we met.


Almost none; very little.
There are few chances of rain today.

A Few

Some, a handful of.
A few people in the crowd were cheering.


A small number of.
She has few friends in the city.

A Few

Indicating the presence of a small group or number.
Only a few were selected for the next round.


Used to emphasize a small number of something.
Few options were left for us.

A Few

Not many, but enough.
We have a few cookies left.


Amounting to or consisting of a small number
One of my few bad habits. See Usage Note at less.


Being more than one but indefinitely small in number
Bowled a few strings.


An indefinitely small number of persons or things
A few of the books have torn jackets.


An exclusive or limited number
The discerning few.
The fortunate few.


(preceded by another determiner) An indefinite, but usually small, number of.
There are a few cars (=some, but a relatively small number) in the street.
Quite a few people (=a significant number) were pleasantly surprised.
I think he's had a few drinks. [This usage is likely ironic.]


(used alone) Not many; a small (in comparison with another number stated or implied) but somewhat indefinite number of.
There are very few people who understand quantum theory.
I was expecting a big crowd at the party, but very few people (=almost none) turned up.


Obscuring one to two oktas (eighths) of the sky.
Tonight: A few clouds. Increasing cloudiness overnight.
NOAA definition of the term "few clouds": An official sky cover classification for aviation weather observations, descriptive of a sky cover of 1/8 to 2/8. This is applied only when obscuring phenomena aloft are present--that is, not when obscuring phenomena are surface-based, such as fog.


(US?) Having a 10 percent chance of measurable precipitation (0.01 inch); used interchangeably with isolated.


Few people, few things.
Many are called, but few are chosen.


Not many; small, limited, or confined in number; - indicating a small portion of units or individuals constituting a whole; often, by ellipsis of a noun, a few people.
Few know and fewer care.


An indefinite but relatively small number;
They bought a case of beer and drank a few


A small elite group;
It was designed for the discriminating few


A quantifier that can be used with count nouns and is often preceded by `a'; a small but indefinite number;
A few weeks ago
A few more wagons than usual
An invalid's pleasures are few and far between
Few roses were still blooming
Few women have led troops in battle


Does "Few" always imply something negative?

Often, it implies a lack or scarcity, which can be negative depending on context.

Is "Few" used only with countable nouns?

Yes, it's used to refer to a small number of countable items.

Are "Few" and "A Few" interchangeable?

No, "Few" implies scarcity or insufficiency, while "A Few" is more neutral.

Is "Few" more formal than "A Few"?

Neither term is more formal; context and meaning dictate usage.

Can "A Few" imply sufficiency?

Yes, it can mean "enough but not many."

How does "A Few" differ from "Some"?

"A Few" specifies a small number, while "Some" is more indefinite.

Can "A Few" mean several?

Yes, it implies more than a couple but not a large number.

Can "A Few" be used with uncountable nouns?

No, "A Few" is used with countable nouns.

Does "A Few" have a positive connotation?

It's neutral, but can be positive depending on context.

Can "A Few" start a sentence?

Yes, it can start a sentence or clause.

Is "Few" comparative or absolute?

It's not comparative; it indicates a small number absolutely.

Does "Few" mean the same as "less"?

No, "Few" is for countable nouns, while "less" is for uncountable.

Can "Few" indicate almost none?

Yes, it can imply a very small number.

Is "Few" a synonym for "rare"?

No, "Few" refers to number, while "rare" refers to uncommonness.

Can "A Few" be used for emphasis?

It can emphasize the presence of a limited number.

Is "Few" always followed by a plural noun?

Generally, yes, because it refers to a number of items.

Can "A Few" substitute for "a small number"?

Yes, it's synonymous with "a small number."

Do "Few" and "A Few" have the same grammatical function?

Yes, both are quantifiers for countable nouns.

Does "Few" quantify specific numbers?

No, it's an indefinite quantifier.

Can "A Few" be used in negative sentences?

Rarely, as it typically implies the presence of some.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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