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This excerpt come from Landmarks of English Literature by H. J. Nicoll:

It is not to the credit of England that the only full survey of its literature possessing any high merit from a purely literary point of view should be the work of a Frenchman. We have among us not a few writers, any one of whom, if they would abandon for a few years the practice, now unhappily too prevalent, of writing merely Review articles and brief monographs, could produce a work on the subject worthy of so great a theme.

I am not sure why "not a few" is used, because it could mean "a lot of" or the exact opposite "not a single". Does "not a few" always mean "a lot of"? Can you provide some examples and explanation?

  • Where did you find that "not a few" have two opposite meanings? Oxford and Collins dictionaries list just one: several, a considerable number. – RubioRic Feb 15 at 7:25
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I am not native speaker but i will try answer this question. According to oxford dictionaries :

not a few : A considerable number

Since

few : a small numbers of

If you add "not" to words "few" it means "not a small number of"

Examples :

  1. There were hundreds of protesters, a few of whom were women.

  2. There were hundreds of protesters, not a few of whom were women.

The first sentence means among hundreds of protesters only a small number of them are women, the second sentence means among hundreds of protesters not a small numbers of them are women

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