Meaning of LITTLE in English


I. lit ‧ tle 1 S1 W1 /ˈlɪtl/ BrE AmE adjective

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: lytel ]

1 . SIZE [usually before noun] small in size:

a little house

a cake decorated with little flowers

She was cutting the meat up into little bits.

little tiny/tiny little spoken (=extremely small)

a little tiny puppy

little bitty American English spoken (=extremely small)

a little something informal (=a small present, or a small amount of food)

I’d like to buy him a little something to thank him.

2 . SOMETHING YOU LIKE OR DISLIKE [only before noun] used between an adjective and a noun to emphasize that you like or dislike something or someone, although they are not important, impressive etc:

It could be a nice little business.

a useful little gadget

It was another of her silly little jokes.

a boring little man

poor little thing (=used to show sympathy)

The poor little thing had hurt its wing.

3 . a little bit

a) a small amount of something

a little bit of

With a little bit of luck we should finish by five o'clock.

I’m going to give you a little bit of advice.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.

b) slightly or to a small degree:

I was a little bit disappointed.

4 . TIME/DISTANCE [only before noun] short in time or distance:

You could have a little sleep in the car.

We walked a little way along this path.

He arrived a little while ago.

5 . YOUNG little children are young:

We didn’t have toys like this when I was little.

little boy/girl

two little boys playing in the street

sb’s little boy/girl (=someone’s son or daughter who is still a child)

Mum, I’m 17 – I’m not your little girl any longer.

sb’s little brother/sister (=a younger brother or sister who is still a child)

Her little brother and sister were fighting again.

6 . SLIGHT [only before noun] done in a way that is not very noticeable:

a little smile

Nicolo gave a little nod of his head.

7 . UNIMPORTANT [only before noun]

a) not important:

She gets very angry over little things.

There isn’t time to discuss every little detail.

b) not important – used when you really think that something is important:

There’s just that little matter of the £5,000 you owe me.

8 . (just) that little bit better/easier etc better, easier etc by a small amount that will have an important effect:

Working fewer hours will make life just that little bit easier for me.

9 . the little woman old-fashioned someone’s wife – often used humorously but now considered offensive by many women

⇨ a little bird told me at ↑ bird (4)

• • •


You can say smaller or smallest , but 'littler' and 'littlest' are not often used:

Her feet are even smaller (NOT littler/more little) than mine.

You can use words like 'quite', 'very', and 'too' in front of small , but do not use them with little :

a very small car (NOT a very little car)

II. little 2 S1 W1 BrE AmE determiner , pronoun

1 . only a small amount or hardly any of something:

There’s little doubt in my mind that he’s guilty.

I paid little attention to what the others were saying.

Little is known about the causes of the problem.

Changes in the law have done little to improve the situation.

little of

Little of their wealth now remains.

There’s very little money left.

Many of the students speak little or no English.

He knew little or nothing (=almost nothing) about fixing cars.

My lawyer advised me to say as little as possible.

He did precious little (=very little) to help.

The laboratory tests are of little real value.

2 . a little a small amount:

Fortunately I had a little time to spare.

Susan speaks a little French.

A little over half the class can swim.

He walked on a little (=a short distance) and then turned back.

a little more/less

Would you like a little more milk in your coffee?

a little of

The city is regaining a little of its former splendour.

3 . as little as £5/3 months/10 feet etc used to emphasize how surprisingly small an amount is:

Prices for his paintings start from as little as £100.

The weather can change completely in as little as half an hour.

4 . what little ( also the little (that) ) used to emphasize how small an amount there is, how small an amount is possible etc:

We did what little we could to help.

I handed over what little money I had left.

5 . a little (of something) goes a long way spoken used to say that only a small amount of something is needed or has a great effect:

A little kindness goes a long way.

• • •


A little and little are used before uncountable nouns.

A little means 'some, but not a lot':

We still have a little time left.

In spoken British English, it is more usual to say a bit of :

I’ve got a bit of money left.

Little on its own (without a ) means 'not much'. It emphasizes how small the amount is. It is mainly used in writing or formal speech:

There is now little hope of success.

In conversation or informal writing, it is more usual to say not much :

There was not much milk left.

III. little 3 S1 W1 BrE AmE adverb

1 . a little slightly or to a small degree SYN a bit :

She trembled a little as she spoke.

He was a little surprised at her request.

a little more/better/further etc

We’ll have to wait a little longer to see what happens.


When you use a little with an adjective, it should come before the adjective, not after it:

I was a little worried about her (NOT I was worried a little ...).

► You cannot use a little with an adjective before a noun. Use rather or slightly :

It was a rather strange situation (NOT a little strange situation).

2 . not much or only slightly:

The town has changed little over the years.

The situation has improved very little.

little known/understood etc (=not known about by many people)

a little known corner of the world

little more/better etc (than something)

His voice was little more than a whisper.

3 . little did somebody know/realize/think etc used to say that someone did not know or think that something would happen or was true:

Little did I know that the course of my life was about to change.

4 . little by little gradually:

Little by little he became accepted by the family.

5 . more than a little/not a little literary extremely:

Graham was more than a little frightened by what he had seen.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.      Longman - Словарь современного английского языка.