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In English, there are various words to express a small quality of something:

  • a couple (two of something)
  • a few (a small number, maybe around 3-5)
  • a handful (another vague expression for a small amount)
  • several (more than a few, but less than many)

What ways are there to express this concept in Spanish? For each word, how exactly is it used? In other words, about how many objects does it refer to, and does it generally mean a larger or smaller quantity than the other options?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

I would say:

  • un par (two of something)
  • unos pocos (a small number)
  • un puñado (same as a handful, both literally and actually)

For several, I think the context might affect the translation a big deal. You might use, for example, varios, which actually means just “more than one”, but is the right translation in many cases where several is used in English.

But for “more than a handful”, you could probably use something else: unos cuantos, bastantes, or similar.

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Where would unos by itself fit in (e.g. unas monedas)? – jrdioko Dec 7 '12 at 18:42
«I dropped a coin» → «Se me cayó una moneda». «I dropped some coins» → «Se me cayeron unas monedas». It’s just the plural of the English «a». You have algo «Se me cayeron algunas monedas», which means basically the same. Everything depends on the context :) – Gallaecio Dec 7 '12 at 20:03
Although 'par' means literally 'two', it is sometimes used to mean 'a few'. – MikMik Dec 10 '12 at 9:57
Yes, same as “couple” in English. It’s actually a pretty good match. – Gallaecio Dec 11 '12 at 19:17

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