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Hi,
I think 'a few' in front of a noun conveys a positive-polarity view point; whereas 'few' in front of a noun conveys the negative. I tried to consider the context of a writing to discern whether it is reflecting a positive view point or the negative view point, but sometimes it is not so clear. Can you help.
I changed a few things -- not many but enough??
I changed few things -- not enough??
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Hi Believer

Let's use a different example.

Scenario 1:
Imagine that you have recently moved to a new city and, after living there for only a week, you already have two new friends. You might say this:
Everything is going very well! I love living here. The people are great and I have already made a few friends!

Scenario 2:
Imagine that you moved to a new city a year ago and, after living there for a year, you had only made two new friends. You might say this:
Everything is horrible! I hate living here. I don't like the people here and I have made few friends.

In both scenarios the number of new friends is identical (two), but the perspectives are quite different.
In Scenario (1) having two friends is seen as something very positive (i.e. two new friends is a lot after such a short amount of time).

But in Scenario (2) the same number of friends is seen as negative (i.e. after such a long time, I should have more than just two new friends. Two new friends isn't very many).
a few = some, several, a small number of (compared to zero) [positive, that is, increasing from zero as the point of comparison]
few = not many (compared to many) [negative, that is, decreasing from many as the point of comparison]

I changed a few things. I changed a small number of things. (more (+) than zero things).
I changed few things. I did not change many things. (fewer (-) than many things).

0 .............................................................many

>>>++++>>>a few
..................................few<<<<<<---------<<<<<

The terms postive and negative are arbitrary and somewhat mathematical, and not necessarily related to the idea of positive feelings or emotions or negative feelings and emotions, if that's what is bothering you.

I had a few problems at work today. (a few - positive polarity - more than zero) [emotionally: negative - I had to deal with problems. I would have preferred not to deal with any problems.]
I had few problems at work today. (few - negative polarity - fewer than many) [emotionally: positive - I did not have many problems - I had fewer problems than expected, so I did not have to deal with so many problems today as usual.]

(That said, once you pass your exams on the use of few, you can forget it! Typically we use a few and not many rather than a few and few. Emotion: smile )

CJ
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Thank you, CalifJim and Yankee. With two helping hands on board, it makes clearer.

CalifJim, you said, "That said, once you pass your exams on the use of few, you can forget it!"

Right, I think. My next question is "Can the sentence be like this?"

That said, once you passed your exams on the use of few, you can forget it.

When you have a phrase like "once upon a time," it is referring to the time in the past and makes it mandatory to use the past tense afterward, possibly like the verbs "was", "were", etc...
once upon a time is a fixed phrase. You can't get the real meaning of once from that kind of phrase.
The conjunction once is not restricted to particular tenses. It means as soon as, immediately after.

Present point of view:
[Once / As soon as / Immediately after] you [pass / have passed] your exams on the use of few, you can forget it.

Past point of view:
[Once / As soon as / Immediately after] you [passed / had passed] your exams on the use of few, you could forget it.

So no, you can't use passed and then can like that.

CJ
Thank you, CalifJim.

After I wrote my last inqiring post, I thought 'once upon a time' is kind of an idiomatic expression and that couldn't be an example to base my question, but I learned something new (or maybe a piece of knowledge that was buried due to long under-use?) in that when you want to express a past point of view, you have to use 'could', not 'can'. Did I unserstand it correctly. Sorry for prolonging the question. I just want to know if you have time to help me.
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That's right. can only works in the present point of view. It's not possible to say things like *Yesterday I can do it for you, but not today.

CJ
That was really very well said. Thanks CJ