Meaning of FEW in English

few S1 W1 /fjuː/ BrE AmE determiner , pronoun , adjective ( comparative fewer , superlative fewest )

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: feawa ]

1 . [no comparative] a small number of things or people

a few

I have to buy a few things at the supermarket.

Pam called to say she’s going to be a few minutes late.

There were a few people sitting at the back of the hall.

There are a few more things I’d like to discuss.

few of

I’ve read a few of her books.

I could suggest many different methods, but anyway, here are just a few.

There are only a very few (=not many) exceptions.

the last/next few

The office has been closed for the last few days.

every few days/weeks etc

The plants need to be watered every few days.

the/sb’s few days/weeks etc

She had enjoyed her few days in Monaco.

2 . quite a few/a good few/not a few a fairly large number of things or people:

She must have cooked a good few dinners over the years.

quite a few/a good few/not a few of

There were hundreds of protesters, not a few of whom were women.

3 . not many or hardly any people or things OPP many :

low-paid jobs that few people want

Many people expressed concern, but few were willing to help.

The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins.

few of

Very few of the staff come from the local area.

Mr Wingate was full of explanations, but precious few (=hardly any) of them made sense.

the few

The cathedral was one of the few buildings not destroyed in the war.

This hospital is one of the few that are equipped to provide transplant surgery.

sb’s few belongings/friends etc

I gathered together my few possessions.

4 . no fewer than used to emphasize that a number is large:

I tried to contact him no fewer than ten times.

5 . as few as 5/10 etc used to emphasize how surprisingly small a number is:

Sometimes as few as 20 out of 500 or more candidates succeed in passing all the tests.

6 . to name/mention but a few used when you are mentioning only a small number of people or things as examples of a large group:

This is a feature of languages such as Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese, to name but a few.

7 . the (privileged/chosen) few the small number of people who are treated better than others and have special advantages:

Such information is made available only to the chosen few.

The needs of the many have been ignored – instead, the priority has been to bring benefits only to the few.

8 . be few and far between to be rare:

Jobs are few and far between at the moment.

9 . have had a few (too many) informal to have drunk too much alcohol:

He looks as if he’s had a few!

• • •


A few and few are used before plural nouns.

A few means 'a small number':

It will take a few minutes.

Few means 'not many'. It emphasizes how small the number is. It is mainly used in writing or formal speech:

Few people knew he was ill.

In conversation or informal writing, it is more usual to say not many :

Not many people saw what happened.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.      Longman - Словарь современного английского языка.