I watched a class in which the teacher was explaining how to use quantifiers. One of her examples was "I had lots of fun last night". However, she used the example "I didn't have little of fun last night" in a substitution exercise, which is part of a regular class.

Is the expression little of fun correct? I mean, according to the English grammar? Do people really say that? Google returned over 300 thousand results for little of fun, while there were over 8 million for little fun.

I would have said "I didn't have little fun last night" instead.

  • In my estimation, "little of fun" is not idiomatic English.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 17, 2015 at 17:45
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    Neither I nor anyone I know (native-speaker-wise) would say "I had a little of fun". That said, neither would we say "I didn't have little fun last night". We'd usually say "I didn't have any fun last night" or simply "I didn't have fun last night".
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 17, 2015 at 17:45
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    @LoureiroGui It's the little words that are the trickiest. To say I had a small amount of fun last night, not too much, I'd say "I had a little fun last night"; if I were to omit the a (the indefinite article) and say "I had little fun last night", it would mean (essentially sarcastically), I had no fun at all: I did not enjoy myself; I did not have a good time. No one would say "I had a little of fun", with or without the a; the preposition of is simply unidiomatic there. But notice you can't negate the "correct" way by just adding "didn't". That doesn't work.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 17, 2015 at 18:03
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    @J.R. I have had similar experiences too with Google NGrams - which together with other things makes me very sceptical about them
    – WS2
    Dec 17, 2015 at 18:39
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    @LoureiroGui Nothing new to add to my previous comment, really. I had a little fun meant I had some fun. I had little fun means I did not have fun. That's all.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 17, 2015 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


The opposite of "lots of" is "little", not "little of". In that you are correct.

However, the teacher made another mistake, by using a double negative. There are two ways to make an opposite to "I had lots of fun", you can either negate the "had" or the "lots of":

I had little fun

I didn't have lots of fun


While saying "I didn't have little fun last night" would not be correct, saying "I had no little amount of fun last night" would. Why?

There is a weird figure of speech in English called litotes (lie' toe tease) which uses a double negative in creative ways. For example, in keeping with your "lots of fun" quantifier, with litotes you could say,

We had no little amount of fun last night.

Translation: We had lots of fun last night. By negating lots, you get little. Then by negating little, you imply lots!

Just to reinforce this strange figure of litotes, consider the following two sentences. Which one contains litotes?

  1. There was a huge crowd at the party last night.

  2. There was no small crowd at last night's party.

Sentence #2 used litotes.

Is there any particular reason a person would choose to use litotes instead of the more normal way of expressing a thought? I suggest two reasons. First, litotes introduces a variety in the way a thought would normally be expressed. Variety is good. For this reason, however, its use should not be overdone, or then the ab-norm becomes the norm.

Second, by negating the opposite of what would normally be said, folks with an ironic bent may use litotes to satisfy a certain desire within them to express things ironically, for irony, too, delights in the conflict of negatives, as when the literal is negated by the figurative.

Speaking ironically about last night's party, you could say to a person who simply loves interpersonal conflict,

I heard there were lots of fights, plenty of heated arguments, and no small number of insults and barbs traded back and forth at the party last night. You must have had a blast!

  • No, it would be "no small amount of fun".
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 17, 2015 at 23:04
  • @HotLicks: Po tah to, po ta to; to mah to, to ma to; puh jah muz, puh jam uz . . .. Dec 18, 2015 at 6:16

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