# Is several more or less than a few?

There’s a big mug full of pencils sitting on the table near you. I say to you, “Oh, Jane said she’s out of pencils. Give me a few to take to her.”

How many pencils do you hand me?

If I’d said 'Give me several to take to her," how many would you hand me?

As a general rule, is ‘a few’ more or less than ‘several’?

(Silly discussion over breakfast. We pretty much in agreement with:
“a” < “a couple” < ? < ? < “some” < “a bunch” < “a lot”

but disagree on the ranking of few vs. several. What say you?

Several is more than a few. If you asked me for several pencils I would give you a handful, in the range 5-9.

Increasing cardinality:

One
A couple
A few
Several
Bunch
Ton
Shit-ton
Metric shit-ton

Several is a few more than few.

CookingWithGas is correct, but incomplete. A ‘handful’ should be after ‘bunch’, followed by a ‘double handful’, and ‘truckload’ should follow ‘buttload’.

Imagine if I was editing an essay for you. You ask “How did I do?”

Me: “Just a few errors!”
or
Me: “There are several errors!”

Which would you consider more severe? Personally I’d find the latter to mean more errors than the former.

In pencils:

A couple is 2
A few is 3
Several is 4-5
A bunch is 6-10
A buttload is two hands full, more than you would ever need
A shitload is a 50-100
A ton is a carton of several hundred
A shit ton is several cartons
A boatload is a pickup truck full of cartons
A metric shit-ton is a semi full of cartons

Much of language is not strictly referential, and is use more to convey an attitude or perspective about a situation. So the same person might switch between the two terms to refer to the exact same number of things, depending on the context.

Several is more than 1.

None. I’ve about had it with Jane and her neediness.

The most important word in the first sentence affecting its numeric interpretation is “just”, not “few”.

I say “few” and “several” are about the same, plus or minus a couple.

I would take that to mean that there might well be the same number of errors, but that in the first case you didn’t think they much mattered and/or thought that the number was less than was common – in general, that you were trying to be reassuring and weren’t upset about the errors. If you said ‘several’ instead of ‘few’, I’d think you were taking them more seriously.

The number of pencils I’d take would likewise be similar, unless there weren’t all that many pencils in the jug, in which case I’d most likely take fewer if you used ‘few’ than if you used ‘several’.

Huh. Nobody agrees with me? To me, ‘several’ is like 3 or 4, and a few is at least five. Not that I’ve ever had anyone lay that out as a rule, but that’s what I thought.

I think that’s biased by the “Just”. In that context, it seems to mean 'not as many as expected", whatever expected might be. “There are just 65 gadzillions stars in the Milky Way.”

“There are several errors!” vs. “There are a few errors!” hmm, seem of about the same impact to me.

Cold. Very cold.

Few or several depends on context, and not only the context of pencils, but where those pencils are brought and how you feel about the number of pencils.

If for instance the instructions for an exam says “bring a few/several pencils” I wouldn’t say there’s a distinction between a few or several. The intent is clearly just to make sure I don’t bring just one and risk an F because my one pencil broke.

If on the other hand Jill says about John “He brought a few/several pencils to the exam” I would interpret “a few” to mean a small, but normal, number of pencils, and I’d interpret “several” to also mean a small number of pencils, but I’d also assume Jill thinks he should only have brought one.

Damn right. Jane’s an ignorant slut.

They are both equal to 3.

Few = Several = 3

I have a buddy who thinks several = 7 because “seve…” but he’s the mayor of wrong town.

But can you imagine yourself saying “There are just several errors?”

It doesn’t work. “Just a few” works because a few is less than several. If you have made several errors then you have serious revisions to do.

I agree with the above mentioned friend that there is a several/seven connection. Several means seven-ish, just as "a few"means four or five-ish.
As for the extended list,a “butt” is an actual unit of measure. In the US it is 126 gallons. So a buttload must be 126-ish gallons.

I think of “bunch” as a double-fistful measurement. A bunch of flowers is no more than you can hold in your two hands circling the stems. Or it can be your two hands joined like a scoop. So a bunch could be 20 sugar cubes, or five ping-pong balls, or three baseballs.

Several is more than a few. Several could even be many.

I’ve mentally equated the two words as equal.

Yes. You’d probably get the same number of pencils from me whether you said “a few” or “several”, around 3-5 depending on the type of container and ease of grabbing.

As a young child, I made up a similar list for myself of indeterminate amounts, in which I had “a couple” listed as “four or five”. I can’t remember who it was who pointed out to me that “a couple” is literally that, a set of two, but ever since then I always mentally translate “a couple” to two in my mind.

As usual context is everything. ‘Several’ might be as few as five or four (or even, after Webster, as few as three).

But if I write ‘Few physicists could compare with Robt Oppenheimer,’ the sentiment might be endorsed despite that more than several counterexamples could be thought of.

And if I write: ‘Compared to DRAMs of the 1970’s, today’s computers store rather few electrons of capacitive charge per bit’, in the context ‘few’ would correspond with ‘several hundreds’ or such.