A few positives and negatives

We saw in the last post that it is necessary to consider countability when choosing between (a) few and (a) little.

In this post we look at how to express positive and negative attitude with (a) few.

First we need to consider what might be the ideal ‘quantity’ (number, amount, level, etc.):

  • In the recent IELTS test a few students scored 7.0.
  • If the ideal score is 6.5 and a few (= some) scored 7.0, this is positive.
  • In the recent IELTS test few students scored 7.0.
  • Again, if the target is 6.5 then it doesn’t really matter if ‘few’ (a very small number) students scored 7.0. This is neither positive or negative.
  • In the recent IELTS test few students scored 6.5.
  • This, on the other hand, is probably negative if the target was 6.5!

In these examples, ‘few’ was negative, while ‘a few’ was either neutral or positive. However, there are times when ‘a few’ is negative and ‘few’ is positive or neutral:

  • Few tennis players are as good as Roger Federer.
  • In this case ‘few’ is positive. We’re saying something positive about Roger Federer’s status among fellow tennis players.
  • A few tennis players are as good as Roger Federer.
  • This is slightly negative. In this version Roger Federer no longer stands out as the best.

Here are some more examples of the positive ‘few’:

  • Few fuel system components fail between engine overhaul.
  • Few experiences can compare to a visit to Disneyland.
  • Few fast food outlets make a loss at the weekend.

And here are some more examples of the negative ‘few’:

  • Few students appreciate the benefits of reading as a means to acquire language.
  • Few politicians can resist the temptations of corruption.
  • Few beaches are free of litter.

Notice that attitude can be reversed by adding or taking away ‘a’:

  • Few beaches are free of litter. (negative)
  • A few beaches are free of litter. (positive)
  • A few students scored 6.5. (positive)
  • Few students scored 6.5. (negative)

You can find examples of the positive and negative ‘few’ in the practice activity accompanying the previous post.

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