Few vs A Few vs The Few – What’s the difference?

Do you ever get confused wondering how and when to use certain words in a sentence to express the right meaning? Of course, you do. In fact, many people find it complicated to place the right article and use the right word sometimes. And we are most definitely talking about the usage of “few,” “a few,” and “the few”.

While the word “few” is simply the indication of something less or little, using it in a sentence can be complicated. For instance, if “few” is interchanged with “a few,” it will change the direction of the sentence. That is because it can mean differently in different contexts.

Let us get a better idea with some examples.

Few vs A Few vs The Few – Difference


Few” is a very general term we all normally use in our speech or writing when we intend to mean not many or hardly any. “Few” describes that there are not many or a lot of things or people. It is a quantifier used to indicate something that is less than expected.

Let us look at some examples;

  • Few things were included in the workshop.
  • Few people can cook good food.

We see, when we use “few” we are indicating that not many things or people. It is a negative quantifier. It describes something less than what one wished. Some more examples are;

  • Few people went shopping this festive season.
  • Few children arrived late.

“Few” does not describe a definite number.

A Few

When we talk about the usage of “a few,” we need to understand that we are referring to a small number. In short, we are referring to some, some number of people or things. It means a small number, but a number definitely exists, unlike “few,” which can mean almost none.

Let us look at some examples;

  • I have a few people I can count on.
  • A few of us went shopping last night.

We see, “a few” is a positive quantifier, and it describes some number of things or people present. It lays positive emphasis on the fact that there is a small number. Some other examples are;

  • While all are educated, only a few get hired.
  • Only a few of them got the chance to meet the president.

The few

The few” is used very rarely. It is used when one refers to the chosen some. It includes a small number of people or things that have some distinction. “The few” is the number of particular people or things that exist at that point and are identified.
Let us understand with some examples;

  • The few people that danced with me are all seniors.
  • I went out with the few friends that I have.

We see, “the few” is a definite number of something or someone that is particularly known or identified. It is more like an abstract number indicating a minority.

So we noticed that it sometimes gets confusing. To make it easier, one needs to remember that “few” is any or none, “a few” is some, and “the few” is a particular number of something. If one is clear about these, it will be easier.

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