Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Few, several, many, and some

I recently had a chat with another guy including about the words few and several. He believes they are interchangeable. I believe that several is more than few. This article says there are no firm rules about their meanings, but agrees with me.

The article says little or nothing about the context. Don't few and several depend on what is being referred to? If I say there have been few National Basketball Association players more than 7 feet, 2 inches tall, few means 27 according to one source. If I say there are few living people on Earth more than 7 feet, 2 inches tall, few means a lot more than 27. In a different context few may mean less than 10.

Several might mean 7 in one context, but 25 in another context, or 100's in yet another context.
Many might mean 15 in one context, but 100's in another context, or 1000's in yet another context.  Suppose 18 people attended a meeting and 15 of the 18 went for lunch together afterwards. Wouldn't 15 qualify as many? Yet in another context 15 could be considered few.

Obviously people in general won't change their usage, but it seems few, several, many and most would have firmer meanings if they were based on percentages. For example, few could mean less than 10%, several at least 10% but less than 20%, many more than 50% but less than 75%, and most 75% or more (but not all). Between 20% and 50%? A bunch? 😊

The article's opinion about the range of some is very narrow -- more than few but less than several. Some has a far wider range in my opinion. That may be due to having studied logic. In logic some means not none (or no) but less than all.


  1. A few, several, or some have to be more than just a couple, right?

    And just how many instances does it take to create a smattering of examples?

  2. Yes, for 'few' or 'several'; no for 'some'. That's my opinion.

    I don't know. 'Smattering' is another term with flexible meaning. A typical dictionary meaning is 'small amount'.

    By the way, my post didn't mention countable versus not countable. 'Some' and 'smattering' seem to also apply to something not countable, whereas 'few' and 'several' and 'many' do not.