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I found the following definitions of "quite a few" in dictionaries:

Merriam-Webster: many

Wiktionary: An indefinite and somewhat large number; more than a few but fewer than a lot; a fair number of.

Is "quite a few" less than "many"? My understanding is that "a lot" and "many" are synonyms. If that's the case, then the dictionary definitions above conflict. What's the actual meaning of this expression?

For example:

She's sweeter than all the girls and I've met quite a few.

Note: I'm also curious about the origin of this expression. The last thing that a non-native English speaker would expect was that "quite" and "few" combined would result in "somewhat large number" or "many".

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When asked how many beers you had last night ;-) –  Klaus Byskov Hoffmann Oct 15 '10 at 15:35
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I answered this (and a few related expressions) at english.stackexchange.com/questions/1858/couple-vs-few/…. –  TRiG Oct 20 '10 at 22:54
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Quite a few expresses that the speaker was impressed or astonished by the number, as they would have expected less. Or the speaker wants to emphasize on the fact that it was "more than you would think".

Yet I do not think that there is an order involved that quite a fewwould be less than many. The intended effect is different. One could call it understatement.

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I found (quite) a few idioms using the idioms browser,

quite a few

quite a few and quite a lot; quite a bit; quite a number much or many.

Do you need one? I have quite a few. I have quite a bit—enough to spare some. How many? Oh, quite a number.

quite a few a large number We watched quite a few of the World Cup matches on TV.

References:

Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006 McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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I know I'm a bit late, but it probably comes from "few" being suggested, and "quite a" meaning more than usual ("quite an achievement", for example). The speaker is saying "it was assumed that there were not going to be many, but having said that, this is a rather large 'not many'". Then presumably people started using the phrase where it doesn't quite fit in its literal meaning, giving it a new meaning of "between some and a lot".

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