just a little/only a little

Status
Not open for further replies.

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
I'm sorry, I can't lend you any money. I just have a little left, and I still need to pay for this dinner.

Doing exercises, I came across a sentence in which I can't quite understand the usage of "a little". "A little" usually conveys a positive idea, if I'm not mistaken, but in the example sentence the meaning of the phrase is negative. Is it because of the word "just"; some colloquial usage? I googled yesterday this type of sentences and found only some questions from non-native speakers about similar usage of "a little" but with the word "only" instead of "just". Is there any rule on this? And are there any more words like "only" and "just" (if they are interchangeable here) changing the connotation of "a little" phrase?
 

emsr2d2

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jul 28, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
UK
"Just a little" and "only a little" suggest a very small amount.
 

PaulMatthews

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 28, 2016
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
Great Britain
Current Location
Great Britain
I'm sorry, I can't lend you any money. I just have a little left, and I still need to pay for this dinner.

Doing exercises, I came across a sentence in which I can't quite understand the usage of "a little". "A little" usually conveys a positive idea, if I'm not mistaken, but in the example sentence the meaning of the phrase is negative. Is it because of the word "just"; some colloquial usage? I googled yesterday this type of sentences and found only some questions from non-native speakers about similar usage of "a little" but with the word "only" instead of "just". Is there any rule on this? And are there any more words like "only" and "just" (if they are interchangeable here) changing the connotation of "a little" phrase?

The complex determinative "a little” is undoubtedly positive. The focusing modifiers "just" and "only" are not negatives but they can in certain constructions be semantically close to negatives. For example "I only have a little money" entails that I don’t have a lot of money. And "I just want a cheeseburger" entails that I don’t want anything other than a cheeseburger.

The negative interpretation of "only" is especially clear when it is fronted in clauses as in, for example, "Only then did I realise that something was wrong", where it triggers subject-auxiliary inversion.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top