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How can I rewrite this sentence without the two a’s?

We planned to meet a few times a year.

I think this would be the best way to show the role that the two a’s play in the sentence.

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

A few can be replaced with several, and the second a can be replaced with per, each or every.

The usage stats are as follows:

                              BNC    COCA    Google

a few times a year             3      83    16.60M
a few times per year           -       5     2.71M
a few times each year          -      10     1.90M
a few times every year         -       1     0.72M
several times a year          15     159    23.10M
several times per year         -       5     2.19M
several times each year        1      16     3.98M
several times every year       -       2     1.07M

(BNC is the British National Corpus, and COCA is the Corpus of Contemporary American English.)

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can "several" possibly mean more than just "a few"? Or is it an exact synonym? –  Ivo Rossi Jan 13 '11 at 10:46
    
Terms such as "a few", "a couple", "some", "several" are not really that precise, so it's hard to order them. (For example, Wiktionary insists that several is "more than two but not very many", while Merriam-Webster says that it can also mean "more than one".) But that's kind of their whole point: if you wanted to specify that you'll be meeting exactly 3 times a year, you would say just that. –  RegDwigнt Jan 13 '11 at 10:59
    
After thinking about it for a while, I would say that "several" and "a few" can be used interchangeably in most situations. If I absolutely had to name a difference between them, I would suggest that several puts a tiny bit more emphasis on the fact that it's more than one, while "a few" puts a tiny bit more emphasis on the fact that it's not many. However, a) I might be overthinking, and b) I am not a native speaker. –  RegDwigнt Jan 13 '11 at 11:19
    
Thanks @RegDwight. What you wrote makes sense. –  Ivo Rossi Jan 13 '11 at 11:52
    
I think you're right: "several" seems to have a slight connotation of "more than one, and more than some other number that we had in mind", while "a few" has "more than one, but it is still a low number". I feel that, with either word, it could be just two objects but that three or four would be closer to the number one would intuitively think of first. –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 16:35
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You could say

We planned to meet a few times each year.

or

We planned to meet a few times every year.

The second sentence is probably more common and less formal.

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Thanks. What about the first a in the sentence? –  Ivo Rossi Jan 13 '11 at 10:19
    
Ah, you meant both a's. Well, as RegDwight says above, you could substitute the first a with 'several', which means an unspecified small number. Or you could say 'We planned to meet regularly throughout the year'. –  user3444 Jan 13 '11 at 10:30
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