Main Difference – Few vs A few
Though both few and a few are used with countable nouns, they cannot be used interchangeably. There is a distinct difference between these two words. The main difference between few and a few is that few means not many and emphasizes the small number whereas a few means some.
Few – Meaning and Usage
Few means not many, almost none. It connotes an insignificantly small number. It emphasizes the lack of something and thus can be taken as a negative idea. It is important to note that few can be only used with plural countable nouns.
Few countries had the power to raise their voice against this atrocity.
At that time, few people had seen an automobile, let alone drive one.
I have had few conversations with him.
Few can be also used without a noun, in a formal context. But this is not a very common usage.
Few were in the favor of this proposal.
Few dared to raise their voice against the injustice.
A few – Meaning and Usage
A few means a small number or some. It is more than few. Thus, a few can be regarded as a positive idea. The following examples will help you to understand how it differs from few.
We stayed a few days with him in Lisbon.
A few of us were invited to her wedding.
A few can be also used without a noun. It can be used to substitute for a noun when it is obvious from the context.
I baked biscuits, have a few.
Now that we have looked at these two words separately let us look at the sentences below and observe how the use of few and a few affects the meaning of sentences.
Few people volunteered to help them. (only a small number of people were ready to help) A few people volunteered to help them. (some people were ready to help them)
She received few letters from him. (She hardly received any letters from him.) She received a few letters from him. (She received some letters from him)
He asked me few questions. (He hardly asked any questions) He asked me a few questions (He asked some questions)
She made few changes.(She hardly made any changes.) She made a few changes.(She made some changes)
Difference Between Few and A few
Few means hardly any or almost none.
A few means a small number; it is more than few.
Few connotes an insignificant amount.
A few does not connote an insignificant amount.
Few without Nouns
Few can be used as a pronoun, this is mostly seen in informal context.
A few is can be used without a noun, but this is a rare occurrence, and can be seen in formal context.
Few has a negative idea.
A few has a positive idea.