Few or a Few? - Podcast Episode 29


Welcome to episode 29 of The English Sessions. Few or a few?. I am your host and English teacher, Mike Butler. These podcasts can help you improve your English! Together, we will talk about grammar… pronunciation… structure... and have some fun too. Remember to visit my website, www.englishsessionswithmike.com to contact me for private lessons, and for more content.

You can also read the transcript of this audio on the website, as you listen to this episode.

Listen for these words today:

Got it made = “Got it made” is an expression. You say this expression when you want to say that someone has everything they could possibly want in life. Perhaps they are very comfortable, have a lot of success and don’t need to worry about money or too many other things. For example, “Wow, those people in Beverly Hills, California really got it made. They have swimming pools and big fancy cars. I mean, if you think those things bring happiness”.

Yes, there is a difference between ‘few’ and ‘a few’ in English. Sometimes it’s not a big different, but it’s important to know the differences.

I will give an example of each.

A FEW: “Hey Mike! Let’s get a few toppings on the pizza! Onions, mushrooms, and peppers”. (a very good thing!)

FEW: “Mark has few friends and seems depressed”. (not a good thing.)

So here’s the difference. A few pizza toppings. 1, 2, 3 toppings. Okay, that’s a few. A few is a small amount. 3, maybe 4 of something. I have a few pizza toppings. Onions, mushrooms and peppers. This one is simple. “A few” is very common. I have a few dishes to wash later. I have a few movies that are my favorites. It is more than two things, but probably not more than 3 or 4, maybe 5.

Now let’s talk about FEW, “Mark has few friends”. Perhaps Mark has only one friend, maybe two friends. In this way, it is more used for emphasis. It is to emphasize that there is a problem with Mark. Having almost no friends is causing problems, perhaps it is why he is depressed.

Let’s look at a sentence that first will use ‘few’ and then will use ‘a few’.

1. Few cities are as great as New York City.
2. A few cities are as great as New York City.

So, what’s the difference?

The first one, ‘few cities are as great…’. The person who said this perhaps doesn’t really know what cities may be better than New York City. They said it to emphasize just how great they think NYC is.

The second one, “a few cities are as great as NYC”. It sounds like the person who said this is now going to name the cities that he thinks are as great as New York City. Maybe the person will say, “A few cities are as great as NYC. Toronto, Tokyo, and Paris”. The speaker probably knows which cities are as great.

Both ‘a few’ and ‘few’ can talk about negative or positive things, but ‘a few’ is more likely to be a good thing, and ‘few’ is often a bad thing, or is used to indicate there is a shortage of something, or not enough. Remember, ‘few’ can be almost none, like the example, “Mark had few friends”. Honestly, maybe Mark has no friends. We’re not quite sure. It’s not a good thing though. Poor Mark.

Here are a few more examples:
- We had very few rain storms this year, and now it is so dry.
- I had a few drinks last night with Mary. We had a lot of fun.
- I had a few drinks last night, and now I feel sick today.
- John had very few reasons to complain. He’s got it made!

You see, John had few reasons… we say this to emphasize the fact that we have an opinion on his complaining.

After the break, I will find some examples from an internet search for ‘few’ and ‘a few’.


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Okay, let’s go to the internet. I’ll find some real-world examples.

Let’s start with ‘a few’. This one’s easy, right? It just means a small amount of something, but often enough or the amount that you want. — dictionaries —  grammar lessons — . Well, there’s no shortage of resources out there for you...  

Ahh, here we go:

A FEW: https://medium.com/afwp ; https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/among-trillions-of-microbes-in-the-gut-a-few-are-special/
Now, let’s do ‘FEW’: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/05/28/america-has-a-massive-truck-driver-shortage-heres-why-few-want-an-80000-job/ ; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/23/few-countries-living-up-to-green-recovery-promises-analysis

Any questions? Write to me at mike@englishsessionswithmike.com . Leave a message for me on the website, www.englishsessionswithmike.com and I will play it on the podcast. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Visit www.englishsessionswithmike.com for more content. Please rate and review The English Sessions on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Find us on social media. Twitter @theEsessions; Instagram @englishsessionswithmike; Search for The English Sessions on Facebook. Until next time, this is Mike signing off. 




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