I like this explanation from CalifJim:
Originally Posted by ph2004
"a little" has a positive polarity; it focuses on the presence of a small amount.
"little" has a negative polarity; it focuses on the absence of a great amount.
I have a little experience. = I have some experience. = I have a small amount of experience.
I have little experience. = I do not have much experience.
I think I could do that job fairly well; I have a little experience doing that sort of thing.
I doubt I could do that job very well; I have little experience doing that sort of thing.
It seems the patient is recovering from her illness; she shows a little interest in food today.
It seems the patient is not recovering; she still shows little interest in food.
Do you understand English?
-- Yes, I understand a little. = I understand a small amount of English.
-- Yes, but very little. = I understand some English, but I do not understand very much English.
I understand English and German, but only a little French. = ..., but not more than a small amount of French.
He drinks a lot of wine, but little beer. = He drinks a lot of wine, but not very much beer.
Please stay a little longer. = Please stay a small amount of time longer.
?Please stay little longer. = Please don't stay very much longer. (Strange! Insulting! Unidiomatic!)
Note: "little, a little, much" with noncountables correspond to "few, a few, many" with countables.
Note: In many cases in everyday conversation, "not very much" is more idiomatic than "little".
Thu, 03 Feb 05 06:49 AM