Some vs Little Water in specific cases



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?

Random Codemonkey

Posted 2016-04-15T17:11:20.260

Reputation: 495

Question was closed 2016-11-21T03:00:08.707

5“A little” implies a restriction on the amount of water requested. Both are grammatical though. – None – 2016-04-15T17:38:17.917

9The tester will have to explain to hundreds of millions of native speakers who would say "some water" why they are wrong. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-04-15T18:26:55.707

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. – None – 2016-04-15T18:50:05.823

@user2684291 Thanks for the response folks! I found the question in an exam for legal studies in India. (Question number 21) Also checked in multiple websites, all of which agreed on the same answer and googling the first also showed more results. Thus, I wanted to know if there's an obscure rule regarding this.

– Random Codemonkey – 2016-04-15T19:38:48.463

3I 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 – 2016-04-15T20:42:34.417

1apparently, the tester himself failed this question. I prefer to use "some" – sotondolphin – 2016-04-19T09:00:02.783

@ahmad, why did you approve a spam edit? – Nathan Tuggy – 2016-11-03T08:27:14.437

@NathanTuggy Which one? – Ahmad – 2016-11-03T08:33:23.250


– Nathan Tuggy – 2016-11-03T08:36:33.757

@NathanTuggy I see, which links are allowed? for example sometimes people link to google or ngram or dictionaries... – Ahmad – 2016-11-03T08:37:38.420

@Ahmad: Well, not spam links! That site looks like an aggregator (in other words, an SEO spam farm), and the edit was completely nonsensical, doing nothing but stuffing a random link in a random spot. Also, the edit summary was exactly the same as the added text, link markup and all. – Nathan Tuggy – 2016-11-03T08:39:57.320

@NathanTuggy Thank you, I see, I try to consider this more. – Ahmad – 2016-11-03T08:59:11.173

@user2684291: Being humble and polite has nothing to do with learning the language. You should be able to use a language to express what you want to express. If you want to be rude then you should know how to express that properly, that is rudely. BTW. "Can I have some water to drink" is perfectly polite. – gnasher729 – 2016-11-03T09:21:29.947

@gnasher729 I apologize; the first part of my sentence expands into “Maybe they're looking for hyper politeness.”, which is my attempt at trying to understand why someone would cross out an (absent context) acceptable choice. As for the BTW bit — see Marie-Lou A's answer. She explains what I assumed but haven't expounded on here. – None – 2016-11-03T23:51:01.283



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.

Mari-Lou A

Posted 2016-04-15T17:11:20.260

Reputation: 19 962


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?


Posted 2016-04-15T17:11:20.260

Reputation: 385