Which one of the following sentences would be correct (or both):

  • Only a few friends came to his party yesterday.
  • Only few friends came to his party yesterday.

Why I am asking this is because we had this sentence in a competition paper in my country and according to them, the second one is correct although it sounds wrong to me.

Edit: The first one was said to be incorrect.

closed as off-topic by Drew, pyobum, Skooba, Rory Alsop, Glorfindel Mar 23 '17 at 17:58

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  • Perhaps go to ell.stackexchange.com for help in learning English. – GEdgar Mar 19 '17 at 23:24
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    I disagree with the previous comment. I'd agree that 'only few ...' doesn't sound any more natural than 'really many ...', but I have found examples even in articles on grammar (and not as counterexamples). I can't find an article looking at the acceptability of pairing quantifiers with limiting modifiers. 'Only a few', 'rather a lot of' are acceptable, as are 'very few' and 'very many'. Perhaps there is an adjective ... quantifier gradience at work here. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 '17 at 23:29
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    Few friends came and Only a few friends came are common expressions, but not Only few friends came. – Trent Bartlem Mar 19 '17 at 23:48
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    The phrase "few friends" (as opposed to "a few friends") already implies "only". – Lawrence Mar 19 '17 at 23:48
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    I second @TrentBartlem 's comment. It would be acceptable to say "Few friends came", but not "Only few friends came". The latter sounds like something a non-native speaker may say, so you were correct in your suspicion that the second option sounds wrong, OP. – AleksandrH Mar 20 '17 at 0:52

"Only a few friends came to his party yesterday." is the correct sentence here based on my experience. I have to agree with you, the second one sounds incorrect.

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