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It seems awkward to say "only several", such as "it is only several blocks away". I could use "only a few", which is non-awkward but seems to imply a smaller number. (the actual number of blocks is about 8)

Is "only several" ok, or would you look for something else in such a case?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Only several is not OK, because only implies less than expected, in a way, while several implies more than expected. Using that combination would be somewhat ironical, a bit like this:

Of course I have time; I have only a ton of work to do this week, as you well know. Sod off.

It is only a few blocks away is your best option, because a few also implies less than expected. If you want to say that the number of blocks is low, but less emphatically so, you could say it is a few blocks from there/here (for some reason, away sounds slightly awkward without only). If you know the number of blocks, simply say it is about eight blocks away.

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It helps to think of "only" referring to "several blocks". As in, it could be several miles or states away. That being said, it would admittedly be less confusing with a different word for "several."

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