Expressions using Themes (e.g. Collocations, IELTS, Business English)

Compare - Little or Few

These very common words are frequently confused in everyday speech. Here is a helpful guide to help you avoid this confusion.


A Little/Little

When we use 'a little' or 'little', the subject of our sentence should be singular, or an uncountable noun or collection of things indicated by a collective noun (which you treat as a singular word). Both are used to refer to a small quantity of something, but there is a subtle difference in meaning and usage between the two.

A little = some

Little = hardly any

As we can see, without the article (in this case 'a'), 'little' does not mean anything drastically different, but it tends to be used in a negative context. For example:

  • Financially, I'm doing okay. I have a little money stashed away. POSITIVE
  • I have little money left. I'm facing financial ruin! NEGATIVE


  • Jack's condition has improved a little since I last saw him. I'm now hopeful he will make a full recovery. POSITIVE
  • Jack's condition has improved little since I last saw him. Things do not look good. NEGATIVE


'A little' can also be used as a pronoun when your meaning is obvious from the context of the conversation.

  • You are in my way. Could you please just move to your left a little?

'Little', on the other hand, is not common without a noun unless used in a more formal context.

  • Little is known about Anna. She is something of a mystery.


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