What is the difference between "little" and "a little" (when used as adverbials)? Is it the same as between "few" (not enough to matter) and "a few" (enough to matter, but not a lot)? Say

I slept little [meaning "cut me some slack"]

I slept a little [meaning "I may not have had the best sleep of my life, but generally I'm in the game"]

Are my guesses correct?

No! It's not a duplicate! I looked at some other questions that concerned "little". The answers didn't address this specific question

  • Yes, you are correct in your assumption. Sep 17, 2022 at 8:08
  • Few people would actually say: sleep little would usually come in a longer sentence, especially in writing. Usually, one would say: I didn't get much sleep. So comparing them is moot.
    – Lambie
    Sep 19, 2022 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


From my perspective (as an American native speaker) the first example has an old-fashioned and sarcastic feel. It could be rephrased (still old-fashioned, only adding an implied word) "I slept but little." Meaning I didn't get much sleep.

"I slept a little" is modern usage. It can be more optimistic. It could mean "I didn't get much sleep, but I slept a little." But it could still be delivered sarcastically to mean that the speaker did NOT get enough sleep.

A way to emphasize that in written form would be "I slept... a little." Or "I slept. A little."


Yes, you're right. Little, and few are negative polarity items, a little and a few are not.

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