An exercise from Hewings’s “Advanced grammar in use”, Unit 52.

Complete the sentences with

  • (a) few,
  • (a) little,
  • the few,
  • the little,
  • what few of what little,

giving alternatives where possible.

The announcement will come as (_______________) surprise.

Answer: little

Is it incorrect to write:

“The announcement will come as a little surprise.”

After all, “surprise” is both countable and uncountable noun. What difference in meaning might there be between these two sentences?

1 Answer 1


"Little surprise" (determiner 2 below) means "not really a surprise", whereas "a little surprise" (adjective 1 below) might be a small gift or perhaps what a puppy did on the carpet.


1. small in size, amount, or degree (often used to convey an appealing diminutiveness or express an affectionate or condescending attitude). "the plants will grow into little bushes"

determiner & pronoun
1. a small amount of. "we got a little help from a training scheme"
2. used to emphasize how small an amount is. "I have little doubt of their identity"


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