If it is countable why do we say

a little bit of oil

and can I say the following?

a little quantity of seeds

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Mar 23 at 20:47

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • A fistfull of dollars is hardly worth thinking about. A fistfull of hundred dollar bills is more worth your attention, however. – Hot Licks Mar 22 at 12:08
  • A little bit of oil would be about half a drop, I think. – Nigel J Mar 23 at 1:35

Oil isn't countable when referring to a single type of oil, but it is countable when referring to different types of oil: if I rub two different kinds of oil into my skin, then I could say I have rubbed two different oils into my skin. Consider phrases like "Essential oils" for example.

Even with a single type of oil, the phrase "bits of oil" could be countable. It's countable if it has a plural - "You have some bits of oil on your shirt".

If one of those "bits of oil" was small, then you could say "You have a little bit of oil on your shirt".

It's worth noting that "You have some bits of oil on your shirt" could be replaced with "You have a bit of oil on your shirt", even if there was more than one patch of oil. "A bit" here means "some".

You can say "A little quantity of seeds", though I think "A small quantity" or "a small amount" would be more idiomatic. (Quantity in this sense is synonymous with "amount".)


The expression

a little bit

is a fixed phrase or if you prefer, an idiom, and can be used with any noun, countable or uncountable. It is the word bit which is countable


  • Here's a little bit of advice… (advice is normally uncountable)
  • There's a little bit of apple left. (apple is normally countable)


  • Here are some bits of advice
  • There are some bits of apple on the plate

Therefore, a little bit of oil is grammatically sound, and breaks no rules.

To talk about a restricted quantity of a substance we might say

a small amount of sugar.
a small quantity of rice.

If we can literally count the thing being nominated then IMO "number" is preferable

a small number of eggs

  • 2
    Thank you so much – Nour389 Mar 22 at 11:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy