The few who use "few" instead of "a few"
I've often noticed that many non-native English speakers drop the grammatical article "a" of "a few" where they shouldn't. This is because many languages do not have articles while in some languages like Tamil, there are other devices to indicate definiteness. I wondered if when some languages that do not have articles are, at least, as expressive as English, are the articles redundant?
The answer is a "no" as explained by a coworker in the editorial team: "Each language conveys meaning with its own set of structures. Once the structure is set up, you can’t make meaning in the language effectively without all the pieces, but if a given language is structured without parts that another language uses, they’re unnecessary in that language. Imagine if a few players in a soccer game quit kicking the ball and starting throwing it, like a basketball." The soccer-basketball analogy hit the nail on the head. There are people who believe that articles are more fundamental while I think other devices could be used for "quantification". Whichever is true, articles are simply fascinating.
The use of articles has an acute relevance in the chosen case of "a few" vs "few". When we say "a few", we mean "some" with the connotation analogous to a glass "partly full", whereas the meaning of "few" is almost the opposite with the connotation analogous to a glass "almost empty". The sentence "a few of us liked the show." means that we know some who liked the show, whereas without the article, it would mean that almost none of us liked it.
For a self-test of article usage skills, one should take this quiz. I got a score of 96% The site also has an excellent guide on articles.
Meta: Funnily enough, blogger thinks that articles are superfluous. Look at the URL for this post http://enkirukkal.blogspot.com/2006/04/few-who-use-few-instead-of-few.html :P