Is this definitely correct? "Several" and "a few" can only be used for things or people from 2-5? I really doubt it.

"A handful" and "a couple" is quite unquestionable,but I find the explanation on "a few" and "several" quite doubtful.

Then, when there are more than 5 things or people, "a few" and "several" are not correct to use, then what words else can be used?


A few, several, a lot of express relative quantities, not absolute quantities. They scale to the speaker's and hearer's understanding of what is normal or is contextually requuired.

For instance, if you say “Most of our people have tablets; only a few still work off of towers”, a few may mean three or five or six if you work for a small business, but fifty or a hundred if you work for a large national enterprise. “We've only got a few teaspoons” may mean three or four if you’re inviting friends over for dinner, twenty or thirty if you’re planning a banquet.

Similarly, “There are several approaches to this problem” might mean four or eight; but “Several recent papers have offered approaches to this problem” might be twenty or more in a busy academic field.


xkcd is a comic strip. He makes rather insightful comments on his topics quite often, but he's not a dictionary. He's pointing out the idiosyncrasies in these words- Everyone has their own interpretation of these words and it often changes with context, so if you are expecting precision, use something else or follow up with a specification.

  • Then what is the acceptable range to use "a few" and "several" among native English speakers? – dennylv Oct 24 '13 at 8:07
  • @dennylv - You can read more about that at this ELL question. – J.R. Oct 24 '13 at 9:49

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