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When do we use 'a few'instead of 'few'? For example, why is it incorrect to say "I have few dollars left" instead of "I have a few dollars left"? Most people reason it should be few dollars because "dollars" is a plural noun.

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Apr 8 '15 at 12:20

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  • 1
    It's not incorrect to say, "I have few dollars left." It depends on the circumstance. This question would be better asked on our sister site, ELL? It's a great site for more fundamental English questions. – anongoodnurse Apr 8 '15 at 11:38
  • Please search the site before asking. It saves both us and yourself a lot of work. It's much easier to type a single word and get your answer immediately than to compose an entire question and sit waiting. – RegDwigнt Apr 8 '15 at 12:23

Few in I have few dollars left is being used as an adjective to qualify dollars. It is a way of stressing that one's dollar supplies are low.

In a few, few is being used as a noun, hence the presence of the article. Idiomatically I have a few dollars left does not stress the limitations of one's dollars, but indicates more positively that one has some dollars left.

The different circumstances in which each might be used could be as follows:

few dollars left - I cannot possibly stay in America any longer, I have few dollars left.

a few dollars left - Hey, I've got a few dollars left, let's go out to dinner this evening.

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