December 11, 2017

Poll – Meaning of the word "few"

Poll – Meaning of  the word “few”

Update 2011 – I just wrote a more extensive post on the use of LSAT quantifiers.

I just received the following email from  a student in my LSAT class:

“Hi John:

I have a question regarding the words few and some. In LSAT world are they of equivalent meaning.

I know some indicates, in numerical terms, 1-100.

But what would few be in numerical terms.

Cheers,”

This is a difficult  and interesting question (by the way I doubt that  the answer  will  have  a  huge impact  on your LSAT test  score – so get  interested but not worried).

Here  is  the answer  that I am sending to  him:

Hello _____________:

That’s funny – sometime  else was  asking me that yesterday. Remember that when we interpret language on the  LSAT  we:

1. Work  with the  dictionary definition  of the word;

2.  Read in the context  of the argument;  and

3.  Interpret it in the most  minimal way that is consistent with both the definition and context.

Let’s try this (of  course  we  don’t have context here).

1. Definition: “a small  number – not many”

http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/few?view=uk

2. The question is: what  does  this  tell  us about a range  – minimums and  maximums.

First, “a small  number” would mean “at  least one”. I have never heard the word “few”  refer to “zero”.

(A portion  of “all” – example: A few  people  score  180 on the LSAT).

Second, could “few” ever mean “all”? Note that  the dictionary specifies “not many”. This  implies “few” would  not mean “all”. I am having trouble  coming up  with an example  where  “few”  would  mean “all”.

So, my vote  would  be that  “few” would  mean:

– a small number of a larger  group – at  least  one but  not all.

Finally – what does  “less  than  all”  mean? How does  “few”  compare to  “most”?

This is  an interesting question. Could “a small number” ever mean more than half?  The  English language is very contextual.  I  think  that it would  be  a  great  mistake  to decide  this outside the  context of  the  specific argument.  Remember that we  want  to  interpret language in a minimalistic way. If  you see the word “few”  in a logical  reasoning question or  answer choice – interpret  “few” in the most  minimal way that is  consistent  with the context  of  the  argument.

I would  welcome  other  perspectives on this.

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I then thought that it might be  interesting to put together an “LSAT poll” on this question. I would  love your participation in the poll or  leave a comment  to this post  or  both.