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Which one of the following sentences is grammatically sound:

  • There is still little milk in the glass.
  • There is still a little milk in the glass.
  • There is still some milk in the glass.

?

My opinion is that "some milk" fits in better since "some" describes an undisclosed quantity. Am I correct?

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    They are all grammatical. Semantically, the differences are subtle -- what research have you done?
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 14:14

2 Answers 2

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"There is still little milk in the glass."

I think this is grammatically sound, but it's not idiomatic. It's not something we're likely to say. It sounds very awkward. We would say "There's still only a little milk in the glass" - but this only makes sense if you were expecting someone to top it up.

"There is still a little milk in the glass" or "There is still some milk in the glass."

These are both absolutely fine, but they have different meanings. As you said, "some" is indeterminate. By contrast, "a little" emphasises that there is not much left.

So if the glass were half full, you could say there was still some milk in the glass, but you would be unlikely to say that there was "still a little".

a little A small amount of. ( https://www.lexico.com/definition/little?locale=en )

Say that someone said to you, "There's no milk left" and actually the jug was more than half full. You could say "Actually, there is some. There's quite a lot, in fact. It's more than half full." You could not say, "Actually, there is a little. There's quite a lot" - or rather, you could, but you'd be contradicting yourself, or at least correcting your own mistake.

Another illustration of the difference is that "There's only a little in the glass" makes perfect sense; "there's only some in the glass" sounds odd. "There's not even a little in the glass" makes perfect sense; "there's not even some in the glass" sounds awkward in most contexts. There may be a situation where it would make sense, but it is certainly not interchangeable.

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All three of your sentences are grammatically sound.

There is still little milk in the glass has no grammar problem, but the usage is somewhat strange because "little" (with no indefinite article) means "not much." Usually we think of a glass of milk as being full, and then some milk is drunk and the level goes down; to say that there continues to be not much milk makes it sound like we want the glass to fill up, and it isn't filling very fast.
This usage would make more sense in the context of something that we want to get filled, like a donation box.

There is still a little milk in the glass and There is still some milk in the glass are 100% interchangeable. "A little" (with the indefinite article) and "some" are exact synonyms here. The meaning is that there was a good amount of milk in the glass, but now there is less—but it is not completely gone.

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    The latter two are not exact synonyms for me; ‘a little’ indicates a relatively small amount, while ‘some’ could be any non-zero amount.
    – gidds
    Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 21:03
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    @gidds this may be true in general but I was talking about this specific context. Do you see the same difference between "there is still some" and "there is still a little?" It just seems to me that in conversation (i.e. as a response to the question "Is there any milk left in your glass?") there isn't any difference.
    – randomhead
    Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 21:06
  • Before drinking, a glass must first be (at least partially) filled. So if I had a glass with a few drops of milk in it, I might say to you, "There is hardly any milk in my glass; could you please fill it?" Then suppose you pour just a few drops more in the glass. I might then say, 'There is still little milk in my glass." (But I would more likely say, "My glass is still nearly empty.")
    – David K
    Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 23:33
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    @gidds Imagine you sipped 1% of a full glass of milk. Saying "there is still some milk in the glass" is absolutely bizarre in this case. The "still" makes all the difference, randomhead is absolutely correct "a little" and "some" are interchangeable in the OP's context.
    – minseong
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 0:11
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    @theonlygusti But if it's a fairly large glass and about half of it has been drunk, would you really say "there is still a little milk in the glass" rather than "some"? And would you consider them equally accurate and equally appropriate?
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 0:55

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