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I was discussing a topic on English usage and found conflicting opinions on the following:

Our team is a few players short.
or
We are a few players short.

One opinion was that this is not correct. Is that true? Could I say that or not?

The suggestion was to say it like this:

We are short of a few players.

which another commented deemed incorrect, unless it goes on like this:

We are short of a few players to beat the other team.

So I am really confused. In addition, if I supplement the sentences above, would that work?

Our team is a few players short of being invincible. We are a few players short of being invincible.

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  • "A few players short" is fine. We understand it to typically mean something like "A few players short of a team".
    – BillJ
    Jun 23, 2018 at 8:39

3 Answers 3

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According to the Cambridge Dictionary, be short (of/on something) means to be lacking something.

Some of the examples use of or on to indicate what you are short of, but in the third and fourth examples, the thing that you lack appears before short:

The bill comes to £85, but we're £15 short.
I'm a little short

This demonstrates that it's OK to say something like

We are a few players short.

The other version, using of, is also correct.

The following sentence is ambiguous: the first part works, but it's not clear what the part following to is supposed to mean- "in order to", "if we are going to"...

We are short of a few players to beat the other team

The next sentence seems like a contradiction: "a few players" doesn't quite go with "invincible". If you made it hypothetical and just one player, it might work:

We are maybe one player short of being invincible.


Note that, when the thing that you are lacking appears before short, you can put of and use something to describe what you would have if you weren't lacking, for example:

We're a few players short of a team

There are quite a few ways to suggest that somebody is not very bright using this format:

He's a few pennies short of a shilling - 12 pennies used to be one shilling
He's a few cans short of a six-pack

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  • Thanks. Right, I made up those examples quickly and I see now they do not really make sense. Let's use these: We are short of a few bricks to complete the wall and Our collection is a few pieces short of being complete.
    – John V
    Jun 23, 2018 at 8:55
  • @user970696, both of those sentences are fine. Incidentally, "A few bricks shy of a load" is another way of saying that somebody isn't very bright. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/shy
    – JavaLatte
    Jun 23, 2018 at 9:00
  • People get inventive when using 'short of' expressions to call someone stupid... a few spanners (wrenches) short of a full toolkit, a few knives short of a full cutlery drawer, a few apples short of a full fruit bowl, etc. Jun 23, 2018 at 14:45
  • @JavaLatte Can this be used with specific amount of money? For example - I am short of 5$. I heard it does not work like that.
    – John V
    Jun 25, 2018 at 12:33
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You could use

Our team is a few players short.
We are a few players short.
We are short of a few players.

or even, at a push [but this is very colloquial & may not work in different English speaking areas.]

We are short a few players.

However, they all convey the same meaning - that you don't have enough people to make up the full numbers required for the team... you're playing 5-a-side football with only 4 players.

It doesn't convey the intent that you have the correct number, but some are lacking in talent, which is what your last paragraph would seem to be implying.

You would have to add that intent, specifically

We are short of players with sufficient talent...

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  • 1
    "We are short of a few players" is not idiomatic. See Can "short of" be used with a specific amount (cash)? and discussion in comments there. (At least it sounds weird to my Canadian English ear.) "We are short a few players." sounds totally normal to me. You could also say "We are short by a few players.", i.e. you're measuring the amount by which your group size has fallen short of what you need or want. "short of" just doesn't work. If a regular team is missing a couple specific people in one game, you could be "down a few players". Jun 25, 2018 at 19:12
  • "not idiomatic"? You see, again we hit that big bit of water that separates English from 'the new world'. Jun 26, 2018 at 6:23
  • My apologies, is that the more common usage in the UK? Jun 26, 2018 at 6:28
  • Honestly, I would struggle to pick the 'most common' from the 4 choices. The least common might be the last, which I'd think of as 'Northern' Eng, though I always feel sometimes with some 'older english' usages, they tend to be reflected in USEng too. 'short of' I'd think of as Southern Eng. Jun 26, 2018 at 6:35
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"We are a few players short" is perfectly accceptable.

It means almost the same as "We are short of a few players". This alternative suggests that particular players are not available, for example if you have fixed team list, and some people on that list are not available

Otherwise the meaning is very similar. In the particular examples, I prefer "We are a few players short of being invincible".

You can use "I am a few pieces short." (if you are missing some pieces when you want to play chess). Or "I am a few pounds short" (if you find you don't have enough cash to pay for your shopping). "I am a few miles short" (if you run out of petrol a few miles before your destination)

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  • Thanks, also it is grammatical, right? Is it because it is somehow implied (We are a few players short of the complete team)?
    – John V
    Jun 23, 2018 at 8:40
  • Both are grammatical.
    – James K
    Jun 23, 2018 at 8:46
  • And would it work also in a context when you cannot deduct what the speaker means? E.g. I am short of a few pieces. Would that be grammatical too? I am asking as in dictionaries, it is always used in sentences where it is explicitly mentioned (like I am a few pieces short of having the complete collection).
    – John V
    Jun 23, 2018 at 8:48
  • I have edited the answer.
    – James K
    Jun 23, 2018 at 8:58

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