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few

[fyoo]
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adjective, few·er, few·est.
  1. not many but more than one: Few artists live luxuriously.
noun
  1. (used with a plural verb) a small number or amount: Send me a few.
  2. the few, a special, limited number; the minority: That music appeals to the few.
pronoun
  1. (used with a plural verb) a small number of persons or things: A dozen people volunteered, but few have shown up.
Idioms
  1. few and far between, at widely separated intervals; infrequent: In Nevada the towns are few and far between.
  2. quite a few, a fairly large number; many: There were quite a few interesting things to do.

Origin of few

before 900; Middle English fewe, Old English fēawe; cognate with Gothic fawai; akin to Latin paucus few, paulus little, pauper poor, Greek paûros little, few
Related formso·ver·few, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
British Dictionary definitions for few and far between

few

determiner
    1. a small number of; hardly anyfew men are so cruel
    2. (as pronoun; functioning as plural)many are called but few are chosen
  1. (preceded by a)
    1. a small number ofa few drinks
    2. (as pronoun; functioning as plural)a few of you
  2. a good few informal several
  3. few and far between
    1. at great intervals; widely spaced
    2. not abundant; scarce
  4. have a few or have a few too many to consume several (or too many) alcoholic drinks
  5. not a few or quite a few informal several
noun
  1. the few a small number of people considered as a classthe few who fell at Thermopylae Compare many (def. 4)
Derived Formsfewness, noun

Word Origin

Old English fēawa; related to Old High German fao little, Old Norse fār little, silent

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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for few and far between

few

adj.

Old English feawe (plural; contracted to fea) "few, seldom, even a little," from Proto-Germanic *faw-, from PIE root *pau- (1) "few, little" (cf. Latin paucus "few, little," paullus "little," parvus "little, small," pauper "poor;" Greek pauros "few, little," pais (genitive paidos) "child;" Latin puer "child, boy," pullus "young animal;" Oscan puklu "child;" Sanskrit potah "a young animal," putrah "son;" Old English fola "young horse;" Old Norse fylja "young female horse;" Old Church Slavonic puta "bird;" Lithuanian putytis "young animal, young bird"). Always plural in Old English.

Phrase few and far between attested from 1660s. Unusual ironic use in quite a few "many" (1883), earlier a good few (1828). The noun is late 12c., fewe, from the adjective.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. [Winston Churchill, 1940]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with few and far between

few and far between

At wide intervals, scarce, as in Supporters of the amendment are few and far between. This expression originally was used very literally for physical objects such as houses appearing at widely separated intervals. Today it is also used more loosely. [Mid-1600s]

In addition to the idioms beginning with few

also see:

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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