What is the reason for putting an article before "few" (a few) even-though it talks about plural?

Generally the word "few" is always supposed to talk about more than one, then why does it get an article before.


  • Just a few people wake-up so early at the morning.
  • I've got a few fruits and vegetables.
  • A few minutes later he came and brought the good news.
  • 1
    The quantifier few does not always take an article. Few will dispute this assertion! The omission or use of the indefinite article changes the meaning of the usage. In your example, if you omitted the article and wrote I've got few fruits and vegetables, the sense would be that you lacked sufficient produce. With the article, the sense is that you do have sufficient produce. Jun 9, 2017 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


"Few" and "a few" are significantly different in grammar and meaning.

"A few" is neutral: it simply refers to a small number of whatever, without suggesting any expectations.

"Few" triggers negative polarity expressions (such as "any" and "yet"), and emphasises the smallness of the number, and suggests that a larger number might have been expected.

A few people have registered.

A few people have an idea what's going on.

Contrast this with:

Few people have registered yet.

Few people have any idea what's going on.

both of which are emphasising that the number of people is small.

A few with negative polarity items is not grammatical:

*A few people have registered yet.

*A few people have any idea what's going on.

There is no real answer to your question: like most "why" or "what is the reason" questions about language, the only answer is "because that's the way it is".

  • Thank you 1+. On what your answer on the differences based? It's intuition or it's documented convention? I see here different answers for the same questions from native English speaker then I'm confused and not sure. Jun 9, 2017 at 23:39
  • @VersatileandAffordable You should have complete confidence in the authority of any answer provided by Colin Fine. This one is spot on, and it doesn't conflict at all with the other responses. His last sentence explains that there is no "rule book" (or "documented convention") of English or any other language. Jun 9, 2017 at 23:58

In your examples

a few

is being used as a reference to an unspecified "a collection", similar to "a dozen" or "a couple", the article "a" is used since it's not necessarily a specific collection, whereas

refers to a specific collection

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