only a few/only few

Discussion in 'English Only' started by nikkieli, Oct 7, 2009.

  1. nikkieli Senior Member

    Bulgaria, Bulgarian
    Hi, friends,

    I'm deep in grammar now and I've selected at least five things to present to your attention and really look to receiving your competent answers.
    I'm well aware of the functions of few/little and a few/ a little as quantifiers, but am at a loss as to how to explain to myself that the sentence 'I've got only a few things to do today' is considered correct, and ''I've only got few things to do today' is not grammatically acceptable.
    A number of grammar books state that the word only is negative in meaning and since in the English language we cannot have the double negative, only a few is the correct option.
    Can I say, for instance, the following:I've got only few friends but I'd like to have more"?
    Is this conversational, non-standard English, or, on the contrary, it doesn't exist at all?
    Thank you
  2. bluegiraffe

    bluegiraffe Senior Member

    Nottingham, England
    English - England
    No, this isn't standard English at all. We would always say "I've only got a few friends". Think of "a few" as being used instead of a quantity. Instead of saying "I've got 10 friends" we change the "10" for "a few".

    Few on it's own means not many. "There are few friends who I could trust."

    I have a few friends.
    There are few friends who I could trust.
    I have a few apples in my bag.
    I have few apples, I really must buy some more.
  3. nikkieli Senior Member

    Bulgaria, Bulgarian
    Thank you, I've got it now. I just wanted to see the logic and stop torturing myself with the matter. Your example was great!
  4. lrosa Senior Member

    English - Ireland
    "few" without "a" is quite formal. The construction "I've got" is not formal. For this reason, the sentence "I've got few friends" sounds jarring to the ear.

    "I have few friends" is perfect English. So is "I have only a few friends", or "I only have a few friends". Alternatively: "I haven't got many friends", "I don't have many friends", etc., give basically the same meaning.

    However, the combination "only few" does not sound natural to me.
  5. tonko Senior Member

    May I ask once more, what is then correct?
    Should one say ; Only a few events were observed or Only few events were observed?

    I'm still puzzled.

  6. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    'Only a few' is correct, 'only few' is not. Without studying this very deeply, it looks to me as if nikkieli's original explanation is correct too: 'only few' would be in effect a double negative, so is disallowed.
  7. ljimemad Senior Member

    We can, however, say "very few" in those examples: "Only very few events were observed." "I only have very few friends." (This would place emphasis on the fact that there are really really practically none...)

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