WordReference Collins English Usage © 2020
little - a little
‘little’ used as an adjective
Little is usually an adjective. You use it to talk about the size of something.
He took a little black book from his pocket.
‘a little’ used as an adverb
A little is usually an adverb. You use it after a verb, or in front of an adjective or another adverb. It means ‘to a small extent or degree’.
They get paid for it. Not much. Just a little.
The local football team is doing a little better.
The celebrations began a little earlier than expected.
Be careful
Don't use ‘a little’ in front of an adjective when the adjective comes in front of a noun. Don't say, for example, ‘It was a little better result’. Say ‘It was a slightly better result’ or ‘It was a somewhat better result’.
Adverbs and adverbials (for a graded list of words used to indicate degree)
used in front of nouns
Little and a little are also used in front of nouns to talk about quantities. When they are used like this, they do not have the same meaning.
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.
used as pronouns
Little and a little can be used in similar ways as pronouns.
Beat in the eggs, a little at a time.
Little has changed.
‘not much’
In conversation and in less formal writing, people do not usually use ‘little’ without ‘a’. Instead they use not much. For example, instead of saying ‘I have little money’, they say ‘I haven’t got much money' or ‘I don’t have much money'.
I haven't got much appetite.
We don't have much time.
Be careful
Don't use ‘little’ or ‘a little’ when you are talking about a small number of people or things. Don't say, for example, ‘She has a little hens’. Say ‘She has a few hens’. Similarly, don't say ‘Little people attended his lectures’. Say ‘Few people attended his lectures’, or ‘Not many people attended his lectures’.
'a little' also found in these entries:

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