It is easy to confuse “few” and “a few.” When you add a little “a,” it makes a big difference! I’ll explain using some natural English sentence examples to help you learn the difference. Please read the bullet points below.
- Few ① = not many
“There are few people in this restaurant.”
- Few ② = can be used to show how low a quantity there is of something
“In Jr high school I had few friends.”
- A few = some; 2 or 3
“Can I ask you a few questions?”
The words few and a few are easy to confuse, so I created this lesson to help my own private English students in Japan. I even used this lesson to explain this grammar to one of my high school classes. I’m sure it can help you too.
After reading this post you’ll be using these words just like a native speaker. More examples and audio below!
1- Few means “not many”
Few original movies come from Hollywood anymore, everything is a remake, or part 2.
This means Hollywood is not making many original movies now.
There are few people in this cafe.
There are not many people in the cafe.
Part 1 AUDIO
Here is a quote from my original post back in 2012. It was soon after the big Japan earthquake of 2011.
Few people are travelling to Fukushima these days.
This means – not many people are traveling to Fukushima now.
Now (2019) Fukushima is doing well, rebuilding and growing.
Few can also be used to show how low a quantity there is of something
In Jr high school I had few friends.
I didn’t have many friends. Few stresses the fact that the amount of friends I had was small.
The company bought lots of food for the picnic, but most of it was wasted. Few employees actually came to the park.
A very low number of people came to the picnic.
Part 2 AUDIO
Expression with FEW
few and far between – rare, not happening or appearing often
I studied French but living in Toronto, my chances to speak French were few and far between.
It was rare to have a chance to speak French in Toronto.
My high school English teacher was very kind and thoughtful. He really cared about his students. In my experience teachers like that are few and far between.
Teachers of that quality are rare. They don’t appear often.
Part 3 AUDIO
A few is like “some” or “two or three”
There are a few foreigners working in my company, two of them are American.
Some foreigners work in the same company as me.
I ate a few dumplings yesterday and now I feel sick.
I ate some dumplings … 2 or 3.
Can I ask you a few questions?
Can I ask you some questions?
I tried skiing a few times but I wasn’t very good at it.
I tried skiing 2 or 3 times.
I drank a few cups of coffee so now I’m wide awake.
I drank 2 or 3 cups of coffee.
wide awake = very awake, the opposite of sleepy
Part 4 AUDIO
As an adjective, few can be used in its comparison form, FEWER.
Fewer children are playing outside these days.
This means now compared to before.
It’s common to say fewer and fewer if we talk about a quantity that is getting smaller in amount. (The number of something is getting lower.)
Since the movie theater on Main street raised its prices, fewer and fewer people are going there.
The number of people going to the movie theater is getting smaller. A lower number of people are going there.
Part 5 AUDIO
Visit my comparison blog post HERE.
Weather grammar – the next few days
Weather forecasts will often tell you the weather conditions you can expect using the phrase the next few days. This phrase is similar to a few days, even though there is no a. The next few days = a few days (from today)
“We can expect temperatures below 5 degrees over the next few days”
For today and the next 2 or 3 days, it will be cold.
News headlines with “Few and A Few”
From websites around the world. (I made this list on Jan. 4th 2020)
Thailand charges towards an electric car future, with a few speed bumpsStory link
- In this headline, “speed bumps” means problems or difficulties. Thailand is moving forward with plans to have more electric cars, with some difficulties.
Few countries on track to meet Paris climate goalsStory link
- Not many countries will achieve their goals set at the Paris Climate Agreement.
On track is a phrase that means – following a plan or direction that is likely to succeed (to achieve one’s goals)
From Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (A great dictionary resource for English students)
Click the link for the definition – Few
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