In Destination B2 book, these definitions are given for quantifiers little and a little:

little: uncountable nouns, means 'not much'

a little: uncountable nouns, means 'some'

Now, given the following sentence:

We've only got ______ milk left so get some when you go shopping.

I choose little as I thought the talker meant that there's not much milk left so they needed some to be bought. But the correct answer is a little.

Can someone explain why is that so?


We've got little milk left.

We've got only a little milk left.

  • ah, thanks! so the remarkable word here was "only". Jan 7 '19 at 15:02
  • @user3132457: But note that We've got little milk left would be very unlikely in conversational contexts today - it's a dated / formal / poetic / stilted usage. Personally I'd say that the same even applies (to a lesser extent) with We've got only a little milk left. You're much more likely to hear We've got only a [little] bit of milk left (where little is effectively optional). Jan 7 '19 at 16:11
  • 2
    "We've got little milk left" isn't dated/formal/poetic/stilted where I come from. With the snowstorm looming, the supermarket had little milk left. Jan 7 '19 at 16:13
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Would you say The supermarket's got little milk left, however? I wouldn't, as the informal markers (contraction and got) clash with little X left, which I do perceive to be more formal or literary than a little X left.
    – choster
    Jan 7 '19 at 18:15
  • 1
    They've got little money left, given all their recent expenses. I say it's used all the time. Not everyone speaks the same way.
    – Lambie
    Jan 7 '19 at 18:25

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