a few

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a few
1. used in front of nouns

Few and a few are both used in front of nouns, but they do not have the same meaning. You use a few simply to show that you are talking about a small number of people or things.

I'm having a dinner party for a few close friends.
Here are a few ideas that might help you.

When you use few without 'a', you are emphasizing that there are only a small number of people or things of a particular kind. So, for example, if you say 'I have a few friends', you are simply saying that you have some friends. However, if you say 'I have few friends', you are saying that you do not have enough friends and are lonely.

There were few resources available.
2. used as pronouns

Few and a few can be used in a similar way as pronouns.

Doctors work an average of 90 hours a week, while a few work up to 120 hours.
Many were invited but few came.
3. 'not many'

In conversation and in less formal writing, people don't usually use few without 'a'. Instead they use not many. For example, instead of saying 'I have few friends', people usually say 'I haven't got many friends' or 'I don't have many friends'.

They haven't got many books.
I don't have many visitors.

Be Careful!
Don't use 'few' or 'a few' when you are talking about a small amount of something. Don't say, for example, 'Would you like a few more milk in your tea?' You say 'Would you like a little more milk in your tea?'

Collins COBUILD English Usage © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 2004, 2011, 2012
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Adj.1.a few - more than one but indefinitely small in numbera few - more than one but indefinitely small in number; "a few roses"; "a couple of roses"
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"
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.
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(fjuː) adjective, pronoun
not many; a very small number of. Few people visit me nowadays; every few minutes (= very frequently); Such opportunities are few.
a few
a small number (emphasizing that there are indeed some). There are a few books in this library about geology; We have only a few left.
few and far between
very few. Interesting jobs are few and far between.

few means `not many'.
a few means `some'.
see also less.
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.
References in classic literature ?
Ermolov had been to see Bennigsen a few days previously and had entreated him to use his influence with the commander in chief to induce him to take the offensive.
If, by any extraordinary chance, there was no war going, then they got up a deadly family feud with the next-door neighbor, and if, in spite of this, they still had a few spare moments on their hands, they occupied them with discussions as to whose sweetheart was the best looking, the arguments employed on both sides being battle-axes, clubs, etc.
I shall offer it presently; but first I with to say a few preliminary words.
He had made up his mind to try a few hardy guesses, in mapping out his theory of the origin and motive of the murder-- guesses designed to fill up gaps in it--guesses which could help if they hit, and would probably do no harm if they didn't.
[This produced a strong sensation; the last drowsy head in the courtroom roused up now, and made preparation to listen.] If it shall seem necessary, I will prove by the Misses Clarkson that they met a veiled person-- ostensibly a woman--coming out of the back gate a few minutes after the cry for help was heard.
"I beg the indulgence of the court while I make a few remarks in explanation of some evidence which I am about to introduce, and which I shall presently ask to be allowed to verify under oath on the witness stand.
"It is the first dinner we give, on our return from our wedding tour" (the lady wrote); "and you will only be introduced to a few of my husband's old friends."
In a few minutes more we rose to follow their example.
"Wait a few minutes," she whispered, with a glance at her husband.
Although I left the office at half past three, and was prowling about the place of appointment within a few minutes afterwards, the appointed time was exceeded by a full quarter of an hour, according to the clock of St.
As she was not among people with whom I believed she could be very much at home, I was almost glad to hear that she was going away within a few days, though I was sorry at the prospect of parting from her again so soon.
If I went to sleep for a few moments, the image of Agnes with her tender eyes, and of her father looking fondly on her, as I had so often seen him look, arose before me with appealing faces, and filled me with vague terrors.