Little – Small

Little-small
Dear All,
What is the difference between “little” and “small”? This post compares these two words and points at some of the differences in use.

Before we start the discussion about the differences, let’s look at what is in common. Both words are semantically close, they both mean “tiny, not big”. In this sense, it is correct to say either: “Ann has corrected a little typo” or “Ann has corrected a small typo”.

However, there are cases when only one of these words can be used. The table below helps to understand the differences between the words:

Little

Small

Means: young, inexperienced:
e.g. Ann is a little girl.
Means: short, tiny in size:
e.g. Ann is small for her age.
Tends to be subjective, involving feelings, emotions:
e.g. I have a little brother.
Tends to be objective, involving knowledge, facts:
e.g. This vase is small.
Often used with adjectives expressing a subjective opinion such as cool, nice, poor, pretty, tiny, etc.:
e.g. He has a cool, little dog.
Can be used with uncountable nouns to indicate that something is not in big quantity:
e.g. I have little water (opposite to “much”).
I have a little water (just some, not much).
Can only be used with the word “amount” to indicate a modest quantity (uncountable):
e.g. I have a small amount of water.Can only be used with the word “number” to indicate a modest quantity (countable):
e.g. A small number of students can afford their own apartment.
Does not have comparative or superlative forms.
Has comparative and superlative forms:
e.g. Your cup is smaller than mine. Your cup is smallest of all.
Can be used in front of an adjective in a comparative form:
e.g. Ann, you can try a little harder.
Used in a number of set expressions:
little doubt
little she can do about it
a little bit
little by little
little to say
Used in a number of set expressions:
small town
small scale manufacturing
small quantities
small business
small world
small talk

In summary, this post has addressed the question of differences between the use of the words “little” and “small”.  Understanding these differences can help learners of English to use the aforementioned words correctly in their speech.
Iaroslav

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4 Comments

  1. Which is correct: This post has addressed (little/ small) differences in use between the two words?
    Answer: both are correct as long as the meaning is “tiny, insignificant”.

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