Using a few instead of few in a sentence changes a sentence's meaning. Whereas "a few" implies a small number of some that is greater than two, "few" implies only a small number. Other words, like "very" or "quite," may also come before "a few" or "few" and further change sentence meaning. Examples can be found below.
Examples of "Few" and "A Few" in a Sentence
- "A few of us plan to visit our friend in the hospital later today." [Some of us plan to visit our friend in the hospital later today.]
- "Few of us would rather be sick with a cold than go to work." [Only a small number of us would rather be sick with a cold than go to work.]
- "You can take a few of the brochures." [You can take some of the brochures.]
- "She left the last few pieces of candy for her friend." [She left only a small number of candies for her friend.]
Effects of Modifiers
Other words can further modify the meaning of "a few" and "few." For example, "quite a few" changes the meaning of "a few" from some to many: "Quite a few people attended the party." In other words, many people attended the party.
Similarly, "very few" emphasizes just how few things or people are being discussed: "She used very few buttons on her art project." In other words, she didn't use many buttons at all.
The word "few," which can be used as a noun, pronoun, and adjective, comes from Old English. It specifically means seldom or little and is able to function as both a describing word when it is an adjective and a word that can be described when it is a noun.