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What is the difference between "knowing little knowledge" and "knowing some knowledge"? I'm confused.

At the afternoon club, the speaker talked about 'how fairy tales began'. This is a very interesting subject. For me, I am not in the category "I have NO knowledge of the subject matter" but I am in the category of having some knowledge of the subject matter ie I know how fairy tales began. Which is a better description?

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    Note that "knowing knowledge" would be better put as "having knowledge". – nnnnnn Jun 3 '16 at 9:09
  • Just to pour petrol on the flames here, I'll point out that it's perfectly natural to claim you have some little knowledge of a subject (that's an estimated 2080 written instances in Google Books). That's "self-deprecating understatement", which would normally be understood to mean you're claiming significant knowledge of the matter under consideration. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '16 at 13:27
  • knowing knowledge can mean to know me or someone other has knowledge of something. – EKons Jun 3 '16 at 15:10
  • @Janice Are you the one who edited this post? – user24743 Jun 4 '16 at 11:57
  • @FumbleFingers, 2080 instances? Diesel, not petrol. Usage is definitely in decline: books.google.com/ngrams/… – JavaLatte Jun 4 '16 at 18:40
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little means not enough and a little means a small amount of something.

He has little knowledge of arabic, and finds life very difficult in Kuwait

He has a little knowledge of arabic, and can manage OK in Kuwait

some means an unknown amount

He has some knowledge of arabic, but sometimes he is out of his depth

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    In general order of magnitude, "little" < "a little" < "some". – Jed Schaaf Jun 3 '16 at 17:04
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    @JedSchaaf, I agree that little is less than a little, but some is an unknown amount, and need not be more than a little. Maybe little < a littlesome. – JavaLatte Jun 4 '16 at 18:33
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First of all in English, we don't normally say we know some knowledge. Instead it is far more common to say that "we have some knowledge" in a particular field or subject.

Google Ngram illustrates that the expression know some knowledge is non-existent compared to have some knowledge (blue line) and have little knowledge (red line), while have a little knowledge (green line) is used infrequently.

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If a person has some knowledge it implies they have reached a certain level of understanding, but they don't feel confident enough to say they are knowledgeable. They have progressed beyond being totally ignorant and are able to understand some (an unspecified amount) of the technical terms and jargon connected to the subject. For example,

  1. I have some knowledge of the history of art
  2. He has some knowledge of computers

However, more often than not, we will say

  1. I know something about the history of art
  2. He knows something about computers.

Occasionally, if people say they have some knowledge, they could in actual fact be very well-read, and be very knowledgeable. You might call this false modesty, or, if the person is genuinely nice, humbleness. The fact remains, that person might be extremely knowledgeable about the subject, but prefers to keep a low profile. Only by speaking directly to the person will you understand if he or she has a smattering of the subject or a full understanding.

To have a little knowledge can have a very similar meaning to some

  1. I have a little knowledge of the history of art (I don't know much, but I do know something.)
  2. He has a little knowledge of computers (idem)

whereas little used alone, means a very small quantity

  1. I have little knowledge of ...
  2. He has little knowledge of ...

From The Free Dictionary

little, a little
3. used in front of nouns

You use a little to show that you are talking about a small quantity or amount of something. When you use little without 'a', you are emphasizing that there is only a small quantity or amount of something.

So, for example, if you say 'I have a little money', you are saying that you have some money. However, if you say 'I have little money', you mean that you do not have enough money.

  • I had made a little progress.
  • It is clear that little progress was made.

Collins COBUILD English Usage

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The two phrases "knowing little knowledge" and "knowing some knowledge" are not compete sentences but may be used as a phrase or part of a sentence to describe the amount of knowledge someone has. The phrases usually do not refer to all knowledge a person has, but only to the knowledge they have about a specific field or specialty, such as plumbing or football.

"little knowledge" implies either no or at most very small amounts of knowledge of a field.

"some knowledge" implies a medium amount of knowledge. Not a novice or an expert, but somewhere in between.

Neither phrase is really normal English usage because of clumsy double use of the root word "know" in both phrases (know and knowledge); the phrases "I have little knowledge" or "he has some knowledge" are probably closer to common English usage.

  • Actually, knowing (v) knowledge (n) is normal English meaning knowing someone's knowledge [levels]. They can be yours or someone's other's. – EKons Jun 3 '16 at 15:22
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"Little" is a relatively specific amount, it precludes large quantities as well as "none". "Some" is an undisclosed amount, possibly "little" or "much" (but not "none"). Generally people say "some" when the amount is not precisely unknown (like animal populations), irrelevant (like chicken pox), or difficult to quantify (like knowledge).

In your specific example:

  1. Saying "I have no knowledge of mathematics" indicates that the speaker does not know anything about the subject.
  2. Saying "I have little knowledge of mathematics" indicates that the speaker does know something about the subject, but it is probably not to be enough knowledge for the task at hand.
  3. Saying "I have a little knowledge of mathematics" indicates that the speaker does know something about the subject, but the speaker is uncertain if it is enough knowledge for the task at hand.
  4. Saying "I have some knowledge of mathematics" indicates that the speaker does know something about the subject, but the speaker is not saying if it is enough knowledge for the task at hand. this could be because the speaker is uncertain of exactly what knowledge is needed, or it could be a form of modesty where the speaker does not want to be seen as boasting.
  5. Saying "I have a lot of knowledge of mathematics" indicates that the speaker knows a great deal about the subject.

Note: this sentence structure in the examples above is a bit eccentric. it would be more natural to phrase the above using one of the below constructs:

  1. "I don't know anything about math"
  2. "I don't know much about math" or "I know very little math"
  3. "I know a little math" or "I know a little bit about math"
  4. "I know some math" or "I know some things about math" or "I am somewhat familiar with mathematics"
  5. "I know a lot about math" or "I am an expert on math" or "I know a great deal of math"

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