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We quite often hear the utterance "that many" as in

I haven't had that many sweets!

But is the opposite standard speech as well? Can one say:

I don't have that few followers on Twitter!

If so, is there any difference in usage? I.e. is this acceptable in written as well as spoken conversation? Formal and informal?

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In theory that few doesn't violate any rule of grammar, but to use it would be to identify yourself as not a native speaker.

The first thing to notice is that the word that, in the sense of very, is only ever used in the negative.There weren't that many people at the concert/The horse wasn't that big. The only geographical area I know of where it is used positively is the north of England, specifically Yorkshire, where you might hear someone say, "I was that exhausted", "he was that handsome", etc. Everywhere else it's always found in a negative formulation.

However, "that few" is a combination I've never heard, either in the negative or the positive.

To make things even more confusing, the rule with very few is the reverse of that many. That is, it's only used positively. You can say, There were very few people at the concert, but not, There weren't very few people at the concert.

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  • Used in the interrogative as well as the negative. Apr 3 '14 at 8:06
  • I agree with you that "that few" is a combination I've not heard, but I've definitely heard similar usage to "I was that exhausted" or "she was that beautiful", and I don't think that it's all that rare here in the United States, at least the western edge of it. Apr 3 '14 at 15:49
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That adv.

  1. To such an extent or degree: Is your problem that complicated?

  2. To a high degree; very: didn't take what he said that seriously.

  3. used with adjectives or adverbs to reinforce the specification of a precise degree already mentioned: go just that fast and you should be safe.

Source: Collin Dictionary

I think "that few" is acceptable and the use of "that" as stated above tends to be colloquial.

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    I'm not exactly sure what your last sentence is intended to imply. I'd certainly say that few is vanishingly rare in comparison to so few in OP's context. As implied by your definition #2, this usage is far more likely with "bigger, more" rather than "smaller, less" connotations. Thus, to my mind, "I had that many visitors yesterday I didn't have time to do the laundry" sounds "reasonable" (if somewhat colloquial). But "I had that few visitors yesterday I got bored and polished off a bottle of sherry on my own" just sounds "weird" (or maybe "dialectal"). Apr 2 '14 at 22:28
  • Collins gives examples licensing only adjective- and adverb-premodifiers. OP's usage is as a quantifier-premodifier. However, Terpsichore's above statement, about the positive [declarative, but not imperative] usage being virtually restricted to Yorkshire (where they have many strange rules), is still relevant (I'd not quibble with 'Go just that fast' / 'Take just that many apples'). Apr 3 '14 at 8:24
  • I don't know if this is an AmE vs BrE thing, but as I said in my comment to @Terpsichore's answer, I am not unfamiliar with this form of "that" usage in either positive or negative sense. Given that both FumbleFingers and EdwinAshworth are Brits, I would surmise that their experiences are valid in Great Britain, but perhaps not in the USA. Apr 3 '14 at 15:51

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