few

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See also: Few

English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From Middle English fewe, from Old English fēaw (few), from Proto-Germanic *fawaz (few), from Proto-Indo-European *peh₂w- (few, small). Cognate with Old Saxon (few), Old High German fao, (few, little), Old Norse fár (few), Gothic 𐍆𐌰𐌿𐍃 (faus, few), Latin paucus (little, few) (whence English pauper, poor etc.). More at poor.

Pronunciation[edit]

Determiner[edit]

few (comparative fewer or less, superlative fewest or least)

  1. (preceded by another determiner) An indefinite, but usually small, number of.
    • 2013 August 10, “A new prescription”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8848:
      No sooner has a [synthetic] drug been blacklisted than chemists adjust their recipe and start churning out a subtly different one. These “legal highs” are sold for the few months it takes the authorities to identify and ban them, and then the cycle begins again.
    There are a few cars (=some, but a relatively small number) in the street.
    I was expecting a big crowd at the party, but very few people (=almost none) turned up.
    Quite a few people (=a significant number) were pleasantly surprised.
    I think he's had a few drinks. [This usage is likely ironic.]
  2. (used alone) Not many; a small (in comparison with another number stated or implied) but somewhat indefinite number of.
    There are few people who understand quantum theory.
  3. (meteorology, of clouds) (US?) Obscuring one eighth to two eighths of the sky.
    Tonight: A few clouds. Increasing cloudiness overnight.
    NOAA definition of the term "few clouds": An official sky cover classification for aviation weather observations, descriptive of a sky cover of 1/8 to 2/8. This is applied only when obscuring phenomena aloft are present--that is, not when obscuring phenomena are surface-based, such as fog.
  4. (meteorology, of rainfall with regard to a location) (US?) Having a 10 percent chance of measurable precipitation (0.01 inch); used interchangeably with isolated.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Few is used with plural nouns only; its synonymous counterpart little is used with uncountable nouns.
  • Although indefinite in nature, a few is usually more than two (two often being referred to as "a couple of"), and less than "several". If the sample population is say between 5 and 20, a few would mean three or four, but no more than this. However, if the population sample size were in the millions, "a few" could refer to several hundred items. In other words, few in this context means a very very small percentage but far more than the 3 or 4 usually ascribed to it in its use with much much smaller numbers.
  • Few is grammatically affirmative but semantically negative, and it can license negative polarity items. For example, anything usually cannot be used in affirmative sentences, but can be used in sentences with few.
  • He didn't do anything to help us.
  • *He did anything to help us. (ungrammatical)
  • Few people did anything to help us.
  • *A few people did anything to help us. (ungrammatical, since a few is a different unit of meaning from few and does not license NPIs)
  • Few alone emphasises smallness of number, while a few emphasises some. For example: He's a dull man with few ideas; He's a clever man with a few ideas.

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Translations[edit]

The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.

Pronoun[edit]

few

  1. Few people, few things.
    Many are called, but few are chosen.

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References[edit]


Middle English[edit]

Determiner[edit]

few

  1. Alternative form of fewe