Her mother has _____ chance of recovery:
a. little
b. a little
c. the little
d. none?

I need an exact answer, I am unable to understand the usage of little and a little as explained on this and all other websites. This sentence could be both positive and negative in my opinion, but it appeared in an exam.


(a) is the most correct English phrasing, probably. This would mean that the mother is very unlikely to recover, which most people would view as a negative outcome. (b) is a /possible/ answer, but would be more commonly phrased as "a small chance of recovering". This is again a negative outcome, but in context may be slightly more positive, as in "Her mother is very hurt, but has a small chance of recovering." It is quite strange that "a little" would very rarely used in this case by a native English speaker, but, on the face of it, means exactly the same as "a small". (c) definitely is not standard English.


Little as an adjective is the same meaning as when you use the verb have in the negative + much.

  • Her mother doesn't have [or hasn't got] much chance of recovery.

    Little, therefore, works like the negative of the verb have + much before an uncountable use** of the word chance. The difference is that it is used in a declarative sentence rather a negative one. Chance can be used as a countable or uncountable noun.

So, it is grammatical to say: not have much chance of a recovery, have no chance of recovery.

[references to come, for now, I am my own reference].

  • 1
    You need to say why (b) is wrong if you're going to answer. // In 'He has a small chance of recovering', I'd not class the usage of 'chance' as count. It's more of a fixed idiom; 'He has two / seventeen / several ... small chances of recovering' are not available. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 '18 at 19:54
  • It has to be explained comparatively with the negative have + much. However, it also works your way: He has a chance of winning/He has three chances of winning/countable versus. And: he has little chance of winning V. He does not have much chance of winning=uncountable. But I see no reason to explain every incorrect option. – Lambie Mar 19 '18 at 21:35
  • 'He has three/several chances to win the lottery' obviously shows a count usage. 'He has little chance of recovering', where nobody would say 'he has several chances of recovering', doesn't. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 '18 at 21:47
  • You realize you are making my point right? I said that little chance here is uncountable, and that little is another form of the negative of have + much. Of course, "he has several chances of recovering" is what no one would say in lieu of it. I agree completely. – Lambie Mar 20 '18 at 21:45
  • Yes, but you don't explain why this usage has to be considered non-count. In fact, you've still not added any supporting references (though I'm unsure about requirements here on ELL). And you don't explain why 'a little' is incorrect here (after all, 'a small' works). Macmillan correctly labels this usage of 'little' determiner rather than adjective. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 20 '18 at 23:36

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