What does the idiom "few and far between" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does few and far between mean? In what situations is few and far between used?

Meaning of "few and far between"


The phrase "few and far between" is an idiom used to describe things that are not plentiful or common. It implies that these things are rare, not easily found, and/or difficult to come by. The phrase usually applies to objects or experiences that are desired but, due to their scarcity, are hard to obtain.


The phrase “few and far between” emerged in the late seventeenth century, and its earliest known usage can be found in a newspaper article written in 1782 that reads: “The fish … were few, and far between.” The phrase likely became popularized in 1799 when renowned English poet, Thomas Gray, included it in one of his works: “The smiling troops of vineyards … are few and far between.”


The phrase “few and far between” is used to describe the rarity of something. This can be a physical object, an experience, or even a feeling. Often, the phrase is used in contexts of hope, hinting that although something may be rare, it is not impossible to find. It is often used as a figure of speech to emphasize the difficulty in finding something. For example, one might say “good jobs are few and far between these days” to express the difficulty of finding a quality job in the current economic climate.

Example Sentences

  • The restaurants with outdoor seating were few and far between, so we were lucky to find one.
  • We searched high and low, but decent apartments in this area are few and far between.
  • Unfortunately, quality musicals on Broadway nowadays are few and far between.

The meanings of the words in the "few and far between" idiom

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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