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:
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.
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:
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”
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.
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.