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a. The result of the election will be determined by a few Northern counties of the state.
b. The result of the election will be determined by the few Northern counties of the state.

What is the difference between the meanings of the above sentences?

I think in (b) we are talking about all the Northern counties and in (a) about some of the Northern counties only.

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As usual, "the" indicates that "the northern counties" are determined. As they haven't been mentioned in the quote, they must be determined by context.

This means that "the few northern counties" means "all the northern counties, but there are not many of them".

You are correct that "a few northern counties" would mean "some of the northern counties".

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