I was wondering why we use the article "a" before few? For example, why we say a few chairs instead of few chairs? Is it similar to the word "a lot"? We say a lot of chairs instead of lot of chairs.

  • They mean different things.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2022 at 14:56
  • 'a few' and 'a lot of' are compound quantifiers. 'Some' can sometimes be switched for 'a few', and 'many' can often be switched for 'a lot of'. Larry Zwier has a good introduction. ProfessorCA.wordpress.com/grammar lists some quantifiers (but misinterprets them as a subset of adjectives). Mar 12, 2022 at 15:27
  • 1
    The important term here is negative. The difference between few and a few is negation. They can both refer to the same number, but few is a negative trigger and licenses negative polarity items like ever, while a few isn't negative, just diminutive. Thus Few people ever saw it, but not *A few people ever saw it. Mar 12, 2022 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


“A few chairs” would mean some chairs, not many but not none. The quantity is notable for being non-zero.

“Few chairs” would mean not as many chairs as you expected, or as you needed. The quantity is notable for being low.

“A few people” have been to the Moon.

“Few people” do not know a few people have been to the Moon.

  • Hello Michael. The question is a duplicate, fully answered at the original (barring supporting quotes, not regarded as nigh-on essential in the early days of ELU. Mar 12, 2022 at 15:35

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