I was looking into the difference between the countable and uncountable versions of the word "sleep" in the Cambridge dictionary online:

[COUNTABLE] a period of sleeping:

(UK) You must be tired after all that driving - why don't you have a little sleep?

Is this truly correct? I believe the sentence still uses "sleep" as uncountable because there is "a little".

1 Answer 1


The dictionary is correct; it is explaining how the word sleep can be used as a synonym for nap. In that context, it can be used as a countable noun, where "a little sleep" means the same as "a short nap".

That said, the sentence provided could be interpreted as two different ways. Your interpretation would not be incorrect, because "a little sleep" can also being using the word in its uncountable sense. However, the dictionary editors give this as an example of the word in its countable form, so we must assume that's how it's being used in this sentence.

  • But then I am quite confused as all the grammar books state that "a little" cannot be used with singular countable nouns. EDIT: Ah, maybe I got it. It is not "a little" but an indefinite article for the sleep and an adjective..
    – John V
    Feb 4, 2019 at 10:46
  • @JohnV - Then perhaps your question is more about this usage of "a little" than about this usage of "sleep." (I guess you mention that in your title, but I often caution folks about putting things in titles and not in their question. Titles are often overlooked.) EDIT: What you said there is how I would parse it, given the context in the dictionary.
    – J.R.
    Feb 4, 2019 at 10:49
  • I think I got it, it confused me that "a little" (as with "a little coffee") can actually also mean indefinite article + adjective + noun and in this case the adjecive happens to be "little". Like "a small sleep"
    – John V
    Feb 4, 2019 at 10:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .