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 '19 at 7:25

I am not native speaker but i will try answer this question. According to oxford dictionaries :

not a few : A considerable number


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

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.