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.

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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?'

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"
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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.
References in classic literature ?
A few stray white bread crumbs lay on the cleanly washed floor by the table; putting the lamp upon a low stool he began to pick up the crumbs, carrying them to his mouth one by one with unbe- lievable rapidity.
Well, he certainly is having some conversation," reflected Ned, as, after more than five minutes, Tom's ear was still at the receiver of the instrument, into the transmitter of which he had said only a few words.
He stared out of the window for a few moments, and when he turned to me again his eyes had the sudden clearness that comes from something the mind itself sees.
I had to confess that mine had not gone beyond a few straggling notes.
The A's could have saved a few of last night's runs for tonight.
This is the first researched and in-depth presentation of this little-known relationship and arrangement, and is sure to surprise more than a few baseball fans.
And how easy was it, when York stunned San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom with a phone call to say he was cutting off talks on a stadium development at Candlestick Point -- torpedoing the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics with it -- to conjure up visions of the Raiders' dances with Irwindale, Oakland, Hollywood Park and anyone else who dangled a few dollars from their cleavage.
JANUARY Your New Year is likely to ring in a few new additions to the friendship circle.
We won't mind if you earn a few credits, and we have 10 exchange relationships with international schools.
She describes the apostrophe as "that elegant little squiggle" that "has only a few functions, yet it sometimes litters a patch of writing like shavings on a magnet.
Well," the CFO replies, "just a few weeks ago, you told us we had it right.