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It is ungrammatical to say "He is a little more sophisticated man" OR "He is a little more smart and sophisticated man". My reasoning as to why is as follows:

The problem is that 'a little' is a construction in itself. 'Move over a little'. 'Move over a little more'. Whatever you analyse 'little' as here, it isn't a noun. Realistically, it is probably a contraction or ellipsis of 'a little bit'. Either way, if you say 'a little more', the 'a' is part of the construction, it is not the indefinite article to a noun. In 'a little more sophisticated movie', the 'a' belongs to 'a little', not 'movie'. So we are short of an indefinite article. If we say 'an a little more sophisticated movie', that too is wrong. The solution? Don't use 'a little', use 'somewhat' or 'slightly' or some other construction that doesn't already use 'a'. 'somewhat more sophisticated', 'slightly more sophisticated', 'a little more sophisticated'. Only 'a little' requires 'a'. Oh, and if you say 'it is little more sophisticated (than)', that means 'it is NOT MORE sophisticated (than)' which is an entirely different meaning. 'It is little more sophisticated than the technology of last century."

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/little-a-little-few-a-few

In the same way, if you say "He is an 'a' grade student", 'a' is not an article, so you need 'an' as the indefinite article.

Does anyone have a different viewpoint as to why "He is a little more sophisticated man" as a stand alone sentence (not followed by 'than' or any implied content) is ungrammatical?

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    A little more sophisticated man = A little man who is more sophisticated. Jul 7 '16 at 10:56
  • Unlike 'slightly', 'a little' is not used before comparative adjectives used prenominally in order to modify them. As you say. 'This house is slightly bigger.' 'This is a slightly bigger house.' 'This house is a little bigger.' But *'This is a little bigger house.' This probably is because of the reading curious-proofreader indicates. The 'a' of the phrase and that of the noun involved would conflict. Jul 7 '16 at 11:25
  • Further to my question-- 'a little' is only used with uncountable nouns. "I drank water", "I drank a little water", "I drank a little more water". This is precisely because uncountable nouns don't need an article, so there is no conflict with 'a little'. But "I drove a little more car"…nonsense. "I drove a little more expensive car"…also wrong. Putting more words in there helps disguise that it is ungrammatical, but that is all.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 7 '16 at 11:28
  • Oh, and the original sentence that is under contention was "I would answer, if you ask me, that ELU is closer to a little more smart and sophisticated question forum and ELL is a little less sophisticated question forum."
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 7 '16 at 11:30
  • Oh, and quoting from dialogue in a play (which is what it appeared to be) proves nothing. 'Character 1: I didn't see nothin', ya lousy doity stinkin' copper!' Dialogue is meant to be realistic, not grammatical.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 7 '16 at 11:34
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Your assumption (or argument) lacks one important principle in understanding how the English language works. English like any other languages in the world doesn't work like mathematics.

You are claiming that "a little more sophisticated man" can't be used because the "a" belongs to a set phrase a little and the "a" can't modify the noun man. You concluded that "an a little more sophisticated man" is wrong.

Now, contrast the following sentences using the same logic.

  1. This is a problem.

  2. This is a bigger problem.

  3. This is a little bigger problem. (The Google search shows 16,200 hits)

  4. This is a slightly bigger problem. (The Google search shows 10,600 hits)

The noun problem is a countable noun. Therefore, No. 3 should never be used because, I quote the reason you provided, "The problem is that 'a little' is a construction in itself."

How can we possibly explain why No. 3 works? We can only explain that it works because the adverb little is synonymous with slightly. Otherwise, No. 4 or "This is an a little bigger problem" should be used. But I have never seen "I have an a little bigger problem" in my whole life. English never allows two articles to be used consecutively.

Does No. 3 read like @curious-proofreader commented?

A little bigger problem = A little problem which is bigger.

No, it doesn't.

I agree that in some context, using "slightly" could sound more idiomatic, but in other context, especially when "a little" is placed before comparatives such as "more complex", "more complicated" and "more sophisticated", etc. using "a little" doesn't sound unidiomatic at all.

This is not a grammatical issue. If it is, No. 3 above should never be used.

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  • In my own personal experience, no. 3 is never used. I've never heard anyone use a little like that, and I would certainly raise a multitude of eyebrows if I did. No. 3 does read like what curious-proofreader commented to me. You should also note that even of the top results in your Google search, most are either using the phrase in the sense suggested by curious-proofreader or just plain nonsense (the first one reads, “Terrence the Terrible's growl was a little bigger problem because it was he could eat”). Jul 7 '16 at 17:11
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Thanks for the comment. In my own personal experience, I have heard "We just have a little bigger problem to deal with.... Do you mean it sounds like it is a little problem which is bigger?
    – user140086
    Jul 7 '16 at 17:19
  • Yup, that's exactly what it sounds like to me. In the article you linked to there, it sounds like sarcasm (of sorts) to me, meaning basically, “We just have this tiny little rather enormous problem to deal with”. Though it's clearly taken out of context and doesn't really make sense where it's put, however you read it. Jul 7 '16 at 17:27
  • @JanusBahsJacquet If it is used sarcastically, I don't see any reason why "We have a slightly bigger problem to deal with" can't be used in the same way. "Bigger problem" means the problem is more serious and if you put "a little" or "slightly", it means the seriousness is not that noticeable. What is your thought? Do you mean "We have a little big problem" and "We have a slightly big problem" don't mean the same?
    – user140086
    Jul 7 '16 at 17:33
  • The two mean slightly different things. If it weren't sarcasm and did mean ‘slightly bigger’, its reference is completely lacking—slightly bigger than what? Some comparatives can work as semi-absolutives (cf. the bigger picture, which isn't necessarily bigger than any other picture, vs. the slightly bigger picture, which is). Using it that way is a stretch here, but since there's nothing to act as the reference (bigger than what?), it's the option that makes the most sense to me. Jul 7 '16 at 17:37
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Out of curiosity, would the following be perfectly acceptable to the OP?

“He is a little more sophisticated, man”

I believe this is a legitimate use of the comma, and it makes the sentence sound a little bit more grammatical.

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  • If you want to do that, use a comma instead of a colon. But that does dodge the question a bit. You can see in my deleted answer one scenario where the complete and unaltered sentence, standing alone, is perfectly grammatical.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 8 '16 at 11:26
  • @DanBron yes, it does dodge the question ever so slightly. But it works as a stand alone sentence... Re your deleted post, the OP doesn't want any added content.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 8 '16 at 11:29
  • Your reservations are misplaced. Yes, your sentence is 100% grammatical, and even normal and standard. Be confident! Be proud!
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 8 '16 at 11:31
  • Your sentence is grammatical. 'Man' here is an interjection ('groovy, man!') and not a noun that connects to the rest of the sentence. Otherwise, you couldn't use a comma just before the noun. But then, it isn't a noun here...
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 9 '16 at 13:34

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