Definition of few in English:

few

determiner, pronoun, & adjective

  • 1a fewA small number of.

    as determiner ‘may I ask a few questions?’
    as pronoun ‘I will recount a few of the stories told me’
    ‘there are hundreds of applicants but only a few are selected’
    • ‘I will be based near a few of the training camps and hope to see what the England boys are doing.’
    • ‘These are a few of the facts known at the time, you now have to decide, war or no war.’
    • ‘So we asked a few of them for half a dozen innovations in retail that are getting them excited.’
    • ‘Place the warm fennel on the plate and arrange the fish on top with a few of the cucumber pieces.’
    • ‘As so often with these affairs the pace was furious enough to scare a few of the veterans on show.’
    • ‘Now returned to her, we hoped it would help answer a few questions about the old boy.’
    • ‘After the last day in the office on the Friday a few of us went out for beers in Aoyama.’
    • ‘Not as simple or elegant as the original, but a few of the additions are pretty good.’
    • ‘There are a few of the lads I used to play with who are now in the first team like Bryan Stewart.’
    • ‘Otherwise, leave a few of the old plants in if there is space and let them set seed.’
    • ‘The reason for my letter is to ask if I and a few of my fellow fliers are the only ones to object?’
    • ‘These are just a few of the instances that I can remember of being let down by the council.’
    • ‘I spoke to a few of the lads that I knew at Dewsbury and they encouraged me to come down.’
    • ‘Well buy a few of them and stick your chocolate in that, it won't get warmer or go dead cold.’
    • ‘We came up with a few of those by copying and exaggerating things that we and our friends got up to!’
    • ‘So, a few of us who would like to keep it going have decided to take it upon ourselves to start it up anew.’
    • ‘If we'd beaten them in a few of those finals people would be saying the exact opposite.’
    • ‘Many have attended rehearsal classes five nights a week and a few of them seven days a week.’
    • ‘She also asked him a few more questions until we were certain he was my twin brother.’
    • ‘What happened was I thought that a few of the posts on my blog were in a different font.’
    not many, hardly any, scarcely any
    a small number, a handful, a sprinkling, one or two, a couple, two or three
    View synonyms
  • 2Used to emphasize how small a number of people or things is.

    as determiner ‘he had few friends’
    as pronoun ‘few thought to challenge these assumptions’
    ‘very few of the titles have any literary merit’
    ‘a club with as few as 20 members’
    comparative ‘a population of fewer than two million’
    as adjective ‘sewing was one of her few pleasures’
    superlative ‘ask which products have the fewest complaints’
    • ‘This time there are three too many who do not watch them and three too few who do.’
    • ‘It needs to have a mass appeal so it stays firmly in the mainstream and takes few risks.’
    • ‘His education, he told me, was unlikely to get him a decent job and he had few friends.’
    • ‘Sport is full of unusual people of high ability, but very few of them are film stars.’
    • ‘In fact it is a great place to take kids of all ages - relaxing and with few long queues.’
    • ‘There are very few close ups and at times its hard to tell whose doing what to whom and why.’
    • ‘Try to be nice about it though and offer them a can of beer or you will make few friends.’
    • ‘The few people who do go shooting on this land only get what is needed for the pot.’
    • ‘The Thals are one of the very few powers in this world able to make me root for the Daleks.’
    • ‘If we lose or draw, then I wouldn't see us being able to make up that ground in so few games.’
    • ‘It is one of the few abbeys to have survived to the present day as a parish church.’
    • ‘There were so many of them and so few tables that some of them were forced to share.’
    • ‘It's a sorry thing to say, but very few objects in my home give me a pure aesthetic thrill.’
    • ‘Hall is one of those who left the pit, with few regrets, as soon as he was paid to do so.’
    • ‘There are few people in this world who deserve any or all of the adulation they receive.’
    • ‘These parties may win many of their votes on the race issue, but they win very few votes.’
    • ‘He also spared few people his assurances that just about no one was as powerful as he was.’
    • ‘Jeff and I were one of the few friends that were lucky to get lockers next to each other.’
    • ‘There were no airs and very few graces, just a good eye and an uncomplicated swing at the ball.’
    • ‘It is one of Cumbria's few evergreen flora of the fells and can be seen all year round.’
    not many, hardly any, scarcely any
    scarce, scant, scanty, meagre, insufficient, negligible, in short supply
    View synonyms

noun

as plural noun the few
  • 1The minority of people; the elect.

    ‘art is not just for the few’
    • ‘We should concentrate on peace and health for all before we embark on glory for the few.’
    • ‘The world belongs to the few, not to the many, and least of all to all.’
    • ‘Emancipation is not a right that can be curtailed in favour of the interests of the few.’
    • ‘The Few, The Proud - a Norfolk Marine tells the story of a rooftop fight in Iraq.’
    • ‘This little gem is entitled The Many Not The Few, and is a paen to socialist ideals.’
    • ‘What it did do, spectacularly, was showcase how the loudest and best-connected Few can dictate customs to the Many.’
    • ‘They believe they are, as stressed by a famous advertisement recruiting campaign, ‘The Few, The Proud’.’
    • ‘Do you believe in the Welfare of the Community or the Welfare of the Few.’
    • ‘Richard Douthwaite is the author of The Growth Illusion: How Economic Growth Enriched the Few, Impoverished the Many and Endangered the Planet.’
    • ‘He has written 17 books, including: Democracy for the Few, Dirty Truths, Against Empire, and The Terrorism Trap.’
    a small number, a handful, a sprinkling, one or two, a couple, two or three
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1British The RAF pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain.
      • ‘In common with ceremonies across the land, the Last Post and Reveille rang out as the Few were remembered and honoured.’
      • ‘It was great to see the unveiling of the Battle Of Britain memorial in London as a tribute to The Few, to whom we undoubtedly owe a profound debt for their sacrifice and bravery 65 years ago.’
      • ‘The only sad part is that The Few are becoming fewer every year, and it won't be the same when they're gone.’
      • ‘He read The Few: Summer 1940, the Battle of Britain by Philip Kaplan and Richard Collier.’
      • ‘It's called The Few and it takes place in The Battle of Britain.’
      • ‘Yes, and I'm sure the Few fought the Battle of Britain so that chinless little Nazis could fight elections in this country.’
      • ‘More than 20,000 Spitfires were built but the aircraft that carried The Few are now sadly few themselves.’
      • ‘The 60th anniversary of the defining air battle of the Second World War will see people gathering across North and East Yorkshire to remember the Few.’
      • ‘He was well known for his part in Gone with the Wind and had just starred with David Niven in The First of the Few, the story of the Spitfire.’
      • ‘We all know that the Royal Air Force, the Few, won the Battle of Britain in 1940 to prevent a Nazi invasion.’
      • ‘The Few, as Churchill dubbed the Fighter Command aircrew, were not the free-spirited, knights of the air, officer types immortalised by the media.’

Usage

Fewer versus less: strictly speaking, the rule is that fewer, the comparative form of few, is used with words denoting people or countable things (fewer members; fewer books). Less, on the other hand, is used with mass nouns, denoting things which cannot be counted (less money; less bother). It is regarded as incorrect in standard English to use less with count nouns, as in less people or less words, although this is one of the most widespread errors made by native speakers. It is not so obvious which word should be used with than. Less is normally used with numerals (a score of less than 100) and with expressions of measurement or time (less than two weeks; less than four miles away), but fewer is used if the things denoted by the number are seen as individual items or units (there were fewer than ten contestants)

Phrases

  • every few

    • Once in every small group of (typically units of time)

      ‘she visits every few weeks’
      • ‘But forty or so of you who visit at least once every few days think I'm doing something right.’
      • ‘Decant the mixture into a spray bottle and spray once every few days on your garden.’
      • ‘And it has to be said that this particular topic has a habit of coming around at least once every few years.’
      • ‘With a bulk shop online once every few weeks you can top up on all basic foodstuffs and household items.’
      • ‘As I sat down at my desk, I couldn't stop running my hands through my hair and flicking it every few seconds.’
      • ‘You've got to understand that he and I only talk once every few months on the phone.’
      • ‘She also hopes to visit Britain every few months to attend council meetings.’
      • ‘Marlborough, being an old coaching stop-over town, once boasted a pub every few steps.’
      • ‘The mobile phone keeps ringing every few minutes and messages have her grinning widely.’
      • ‘The emphasis was moving away from local struggles to big protests once every few months.’
  • few and far between

    • Scarce; infrequent.

      ‘my inspired moments are few and far between’
      • ‘Make it easy on yourself - enjoy the magic moments in life - they are too few and far between.’
      • ‘But the cases where physical evidence exists to prove their innocence are few and far between.’
      • ‘The chance of people learning by experience gets less and less as the jobs become few and far between.’
      • ‘Details remain few and far between, and as yet no background studies have been prepared.’
      • ‘In a world befogged by superficiality, moments of clarity are few and far between.’
      • ‘Benefits from privatisation/fragmentation have been few and far between but this is one of them.’
      • ‘Television ads are few and far between; the yard signs and badges are more scarce.’
      • ‘Raises to Bahamians will be few and far between, and they will try to extract the most out of the workers.’
      • ‘Realistically, however, at his age opportunities to make blockbusters are few and far between.’
      • ‘There are moments of genuine wit, but they are too few and far between to make a noticeable difference.’
      scarce, scant, scanty, meagre, insufficient, negligible, in short supply
      View synonyms
  • a good few

    • A fairly large number of.

      ‘we sat there for a good few minutes’
      • ‘I'm not ready for the full team but that makes me no different to a good few of the younger strikers who have been making the squads.’
      • ‘At 28 MacLean is right to consider that he has a good few years left in him.’
      • ‘After a good few more video sessions, we know about the French strengths and possible weaknesses.’
      • ‘Three of these heads of state and a good few of the ordinary victims perished after 1899.’
      • ‘One group of four people were actually observed to sit down for a good few minutes and read all of them in-depth.’
      • ‘Naturally a good few of the questions are rather risqué, which made for some interesting moments.’
      • ‘His collection of old York images numbers 2,500, and a good few of those show the tramway.’
      • ‘While a good few of those ten happened on more than a one-off occasion, one every twelve months does seem rather spartan.’
      • ‘He knew Loiseau personally, has met many of the great chefs and has put a good few of their meals under his belt.’
      • ‘The possibilities are endless and the film manages to explore a good few of them.’
      an amount, a number, a good few, a good number, a lot, a large amount, good deal, great deal, a good deal, a great deal
      View synonyms
  • have a few

    • informal Drink enough alcohol to be slightly drunk.

      • ‘Puff has no more effect on you than alcohol and certainly does not turn you violent when you have had a few like booze.’
      • ‘Oh well, no harm done, he's a happy loving guy when he's had a few.’
      • ‘He's a laugh, just a bit moody when he's had a few.’
      • ‘The most worrying thing is, I've had quite a few and my spelling is still impekabel.’
      drink alcohol, take alcohol, tipple, indulge
      View synonyms
  • no fewer than

    • Used to emphasize a surprisingly large number.

      ‘there are no fewer than seventy different brand names’
      • ‘The 33 individuals identified by Scotland on Sunday between them share no fewer than 69 posts.’
      • ‘Over the period it has topped the yearly sales charts no fewer than 11 times.’
      • ‘Built by car manufacturer Ford, the car, worth half a million pounds, was surrounded by no fewer than four security guards.’
      • ‘Eventually, he was supplying designs to no fewer than 50 manufacturers.’
      • ‘Although they got no further than the foothills, Patricia and Peter found no fewer than three new species of rhododendron.’
      • ‘In North America, when a C-section is performed, no fewer than four doctors are present in the room.’
      • ‘In fact, there should have been no fewer than four Leevale runners on the team for Sunday's long course race.’
      • ‘In Afghanistan, no fewer than three such operations were mounted.’
      • ‘And I've just discovered that next March contains no fewer than five Mondays.’
      • ‘Club action returns this week with no fewer than five teams in action.’
  • not a few

    • A considerable number.

      ‘virtually every soul star, and not a few blues singers, learned to sing in church’
      • ‘I don't understand why not a few on the right feel the need to defend the sorts of people who make off with millions after failing miserably in their job.’
      • ‘How you feel about this will color your judgment of the work but won't decrease your enjoyment of the good parts, of which there are not a few.’
      • ‘One could make the case that over the course of history Europe has produced most of the great scientific insights and not a few of the major inventions.’
      • ‘And not a few of Le Va's recent drawings are downright epic in scale and symbolic reach.’
      • ‘I must now take responsibility for enraging my party leader, alienating the people of a great city, and incurring the anger of not a few of The Spectator's readers.’
      • ‘Rodger's book is a veritable feast of facts (and not a few prejudices), culled from a vast range of sources and laced with some salty anecdotes.’
      • ‘But his critics, and they were not a few, said privately that the benevolent Burke image would not last.’
      • ‘John knew every haulage owner and driver as well as registration numbers and make of lorries in Connacht and not a few from outside as well.’
      • ‘If rakhi day brings happiness to many men in town, it also brings disappointment to not a few, especially on the city's campuses.’
      • ‘This sentiment is shared by not a few, many of whom are committed to the belief that country comes first.’
  • quite a few

    • A fairly large number.

      ‘quite a few people got the wrong impression’
      • ‘It means that I have to buy everybody presents, and not get anything back from quite a few.’
      • ‘He admits that quite a few very experienced climbers have died on the West Ridge route.’
      • ‘Sligo has been waiting for quite a few things for a long time and now two of them come together.’
      • ‘I explained quite a few more times but eventually he just shut his window and took no notice.’
      • ‘Yes quite a few, it's one of the things about living in London or any big city I guess.’
      • ‘You need quite a few to make the juice for this jelly, and it is much easier to do if you have a blender or food processor.’
      • ‘He has been able to find sufficient time to create quite a few items during his free time.’
      • ‘There are others, of course, quite a few of them, but it'd be boring to list them all.’
      • ‘Branson understands that quite a few of us harbour a desire to rise above the multitude.’
      • ‘I am not sure I have a hero as such, but there are quite a few figures that I admire.’
  • some few

    • Some but not many.

      • ‘In some few principles, or perhaps in one simple principle, they all united.’
      • ‘Remember how long the regime for paying for hospital treatment lasted when it affected the whole population - some few months - until everyone knew someone that had been asked to pay and decided that it was not acceptable.’
      • ‘There are some few Englishmen who treat ignorant public opinion with the contempt that it deserves - and I am one of them.’
      • ‘I was with your husband just some few hours ago and he told me about the mealie meal issue you were discussing early this morning.’
      • ‘I unreservedly apologise on behalf of brother priests and religious [members of the church community] for the hurt that has been done by some few of our number.’
      • ‘Despite these well-documented stories, there are still some few people who cling to the small hope that they can have a ‘normal life’ - as they believe it.’
      • ‘I see no sign of let up - some few deserters - plenty tired of war, but the masses determined to fight it out.’
      • ‘This is because some few hundred vegetable, fruit and grocery vendors set up shop here from the wee hours (as they have been doing for over two decades) and by residents' consensus, the leftover wares of the day are left behind.’
      • ‘Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.’
      • ‘We like the Nigerians, but we want some few Americans or British, to help them out and ensure the stability of our country.’

Origin

Old English fēawe, fēawa, of Germanic origin; related to Old High German fao, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin paucus and Greek pauros ‘small’.

Pronunciation

few

/fjuː/