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Which of these is idiomatic, 'a small quantity' or 'a little quantity?

For instance:

This product has a little / small quantity of that ingredient.

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3 Answers 3

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In general, words like "amount," "quantity," "number," etc all use "small" rather than "little." So "a small quantity of cases," "a small amount of chips," and so on.

However, your sentence has another issue: ingredients don't have quantity (small or otherwise), you can only have some quantity of an ingredient. So you would properly say "This product contains a small quantity of this ingredient." Alternatively, you can say "there is a small quantity of this ingredient in this product."

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    "A little quantity of..." is found in Google searches, very often in material from Nigeria. I agree that it is not standard or formal English. May 15, 2023 at 17:38
  • I edited my instance. May 16, 2023 at 3:19
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    @VirtuousLegend editing your post after someone has pointed out its errors, means a chunk of this answer is invalid. You should rollback the edit.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 16, 2023 at 5:40
  • Actually I think numbers tend to be more often low or high than small or big.
    – Stef
    May 16, 2023 at 11:05
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    @Stef "a small number of people were at the party," not "a low number of people" (and definitely not "a little number of people")
    – Esther
    May 16, 2023 at 16:22
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That 'instance' is not grammatical with 'small' or 'little'. You can say 'This ingredient is present in a small [or little] quantity in this product'. Since is 'present in' is formal English, I would prefer using the formal 'small' and not 'little', although a Google search will find examples of that usage.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is present in a small quantity in the air we breathe (0.04%). It is colourless, tasteless, non-flammable, and has a very faint sour smell.

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Possibly "a smidgen", given that the first example in a Google search for a usage of the word is pretty much the example in your question ("a small amount of something" - "add a smidgen of cayenne" per Oxford dictionaries. Similar definition and example in Merriam-Webster).

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  • Informal, and maybe OK in an informally written recipe, or in casual conversation, but not generally, especially not in a formal or academic context. May 16, 2023 at 9:50
  • @MichaelHarvey I doubt that somebody who is writing in an academic context would have asked for an "idiomatical," (sic) expression (idiomatic after all means "correct without being too formal"). May 16, 2023 at 10:03
  • But 'this product has... of that ingredient', as in the question, is decidedly formal. Something can be idiomatic and completely informal (not just 'without being too formal'), e.g. I don't think you would write 'We must not shit in our own nest' in a business plan or political manifesto. May 16, 2023 at 10:23
  • Many 2nd-language learners, and also native speakers use 'idiomatic' to mean 'correct' or 'natural'. Cambridge Dictionary, for example, gives these two definitions: (1) containing or consisting of an idiom (example given: 'bite the bullet') (2) containing expressions that are natural and correct. May 16, 2023 at 13:16
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    May 16, 2023 at 14:00

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