I have always used the phrase "some water" and "a little water" interchangeably. Recently I took an English quiz and the question was :

Please give me (a little / some) _____ water to drink.

I marked 'some' as the correct answer but found out that 'a little' was correct. Searching similar sentences on Google also confirms this. Is the use of 'some' here incorrect?

PS: I found many sentences where 'some' is used in this construction :

Please, may I have some water in a cup

Is there any reason for using the specific phrase in that context?

  • 5
    “A little” implies a restriction on the amount of water requested. Both are grammatical though. – user3395 Apr 15 '16 at 17:38
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    The tester will have to explain to hundreds of millions of native speakers who would say "some water" why they are wrong. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 15 '16 at 18:26
  • Maybe it's hyper politeness, i.e. you're supposed to be humble and only request a little? I wonder where the OP found it. – user3395 Apr 15 '16 at 18:50
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    I noticed a mistake in question 23: they mark as correct the noun "parasite" when the adjective "parasitic" is indicated. I suspect this is just another example of a test created by recent grads with little experience in the field and inflicted on hapless applicants who have no form of redress. – Cascabel Apr 15 '16 at 20:42
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    apparently, the tester himself failed this question. I prefer to use "some" – sotondolphin Apr 19 '16 at 9:00

Please give me (a little / some) _____ water to drink.

Both "a little water" and "some water" are perfectly correct, and they have very similar meanings. The expression "a little" does not refer to a tiny quantity of water, its meaning is closer to "some" than "not much".

English Grammar Today

(A) little and (a) few are quantifiers meaning ‘some’. Little and few have negative meanings. We use them to mean ‘not as much as may be expected or wished for’.

She saves a little money every month | some, a small amount

Source: Cambridge Dictionary

However, when asking for "a little water" the speaker's tone will be slightly hesitant, and some speakers retain that this choice of expression is more polite, and less direct than simply saying

Please give me some water...

The fact that the request is prefaced with please suggests that the examiner (or the author of the quiz) was looking for the more hesitant expression, i.e. a little.

Opinions may vary on this interpretation.


Some indicates an indefinite amount. This is clearly a valid way to refer to a liquid in English.

If you are required to drink a definite quantity of water then perhaps a little makes sense relative to that preordained volume.

Otherwise a little is a little too specific an answer to require of test-takers in good faith.

I haven't heard of nor have I detected any hypothetical natural water unit.

Unless we are talking about water on the molecular scale--but is that single molecule really a little water?

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