A: Have you got any money?
B: Yes, a little
A: Have you got any money?
B: yes, the little

How a little is differ from the little in above context?

As far as I know the meaning of "a little" is "positive(some)," and meaning of "the little" is "not much" which can also be considered as some.


2 Answers 2


"A little" is an indefinite but specific amount of money. It probably refers specifically to the amount of money the person has in his pocket, for example.

"The little" is rarely if ever going to be used in this context. The makes a definite reference and in this context one really needs to flesh out what definite money one is referring to, as in

1 the little that you gave me.

2 the little that is leftover from last night.

3 the little I have been saving for the past forty seven years.

  • Please review the guidelines on editing posts, and if you do not care for my changes, please make suitable ones yourself: the longstanding convention on this site is to use italics to distinguish use/mention, and your post will be easier to read if you place your listed examples in a proper list or in a blockquote.
    – choster
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:56

The correct form in your example is the first one:

A: Have you got any money? B: Yes, a little

B has a non-specific small amount of money, so we use the indefinite article (a).

You could alter the converstion to make "the" appropriate:

A: Have you got any money? B: Yes, but the little I have is for buying lunch

B has a small amount of money, but needs it to buy lunch. Here we are talking about a specific small amount of money (ie, the small amount that B has), so the definite article is used.

  • 'A little' is indefinite. But it is almost certainly 'specific', as in 'a little, which is in my pocket.' The indefinite article can refer to either specific or nonspecific items or referents. Consider: I need to buy a new car (nonspecific) and I just bought a new car (specific).
    – user20792
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:23
  • I would argue that in both cases you do not specify which new car you bought, therefore it is non-specific Nov 6, 2015 at 14:57
  • I just looked up Quirk et al., Unit 5.26, "Specific and Generic Reference", and it seems to me that this use of a is not generic, so it must be specific. According to Quirk et al., little is a quantifier functioning as postdeterminer (Unit 5.23). In the unit's note [a] they mention the use of little with other determiners: "that little money". In 5.24 they say that a belongs not to the word money, but to the quantifier little, since we cannot say "yes, a money", but only "yes, a little (money)". (it's all linguistic lingo, of course, the "generic\specific"..) Nov 6, 2015 at 15:23
  • If I say, I just bought a new car and it is sitting in the driveway, I am making an indefinite but specific reference. In sum, one may make either a specific or nonspecific reference with the indefinite article. And to avoid further quibbling, I suggest you consult a textbook on linguistics.
    – user20792
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:24
  • Either way your answer is more clearly written than mine, I defer to your knowledge and textbooks Nov 6, 2015 at 15:26

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