Taken literally from a modern US English viewpoint, the phrase "few would argue that" would mean that the statement the phrase appears before is widely held to be false. The specific wording would either being hedging or accounting for a lunatic fringe, e.g. "few would argue that the Earth is flat." In my perception this is the far more common use of the phrase.

I have, however, come across a number of uses where, contextually, its clear the author intended just the opposite. One example is from Michael A. Stackpole's Coupe, in which a character opens a speech about war with "Few would argue that warfare is mankind's oldest profession - and oldest obsession." From context, its clear he meant something like "Few will argue with me when I say," or "It's not controversial to say."

Is one usage more common than the other? Or is this one of those things like "nonplussed" that has two widely used but contradictory meanings?

  • 1
    Argue is here a synonym for dispute. The statement is widely held to be true. I have only ever encountered the phrase that way. It is an elided version of few would argue with the statement that ... If you want your version, you would have to change it to few would argue for ...
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 23:56
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    The Ngrams are interesting. Few would argue, few would dispute
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 0:00
  • And I have no idea why this was downvoted, so have a +1.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 0:02
  • Now asked at answertowolrd.com/english-language-usage/…
    – GEdgar
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 0:11
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    @PhilSweet: And just for laughs, here is the same Ngram chart with "few would deny" as a third option. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the resulting graph is how it emphasizes the late date at which "few would argue" gained momentum relative to the other two expressions.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 7:21

1 Answer 1


Is one usage more common than the other?

No. Few will argue that "Few will argue" is a mere rhetorical device encouraging the listener to accept what the speaker is saying by virtue of the ad populum fallacy


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