little

[lit-l]

adjective, lit·tler or less or less·er, lit·tlest or least.

adverb, less, least.

noun


Idioms

    in little, on a small scale; in miniature: a replica in little of Independence Hall.
    little by little, by small degrees; gradually: The water level rose little by little.
    make little of,
    1. belittle: to make little of one's troubles.
    2. to understand or interpret only slightly: Scholars made little of the newly discovered text.
    not a little, to a great extent; very much; considerably: It tired me not a little to stand for three hours.
    think little of, to treat casually; regard as trivial: They think little of driving 50 miles to see a movie.

Origin of little

before 900; Middle English, Old English lȳtel (lȳt few, small + -el diminutive suffix), cognate with Dutch luttel, Old High German luzzil, Old Norse lītill
Related formslit·tlish [lit-l-ish, lit-lish] /ˈlɪt l ɪʃ, ˈlɪt lɪʃ/, adjectivelit·tle·ness, noun

Synonyms for little

1–4. tiny, teeny, wee. Little, diminutive, minute, small refer to that which is not large or significant. Little (the opposite of big ) is very general, covering size, extent, number, quantity, amount, duration, or degree: a little boy; a little time. Small (the opposite of large and of great ) can many times be used interchangeably with little, but is especially applied to what is limited or below the average in size: small oranges. Diminutive denotes (usually physical) size that is much less than the average or ordinary; it may suggest delicacy: the baby's diminutive fingers; diminutive in size but autocratic in manner. Minute suggests that which is so tiny it is difficult to discern, or that which implies attentiveness to the smallest details: a minute quantity; a minute exam.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019


British Dictionary definitions for a little

little

determiner

(often preceded by a)
  1. a small quantity, extent, or duration ofthe little hope there is left; very little milk
  2. (as pronoun)save a little for me
not muchlittle damage was done
make little of See make of (def. 3)
not a little
  1. very
  2. a lot
quite a little a considerable amount
think little of to have a low opinion of

adjective

of small or less than average size
younga little boy; our little ones
endearingly familiar; dearmy husband's little ways
contemptible, mean, or disagreeableyour filthy little mind
(of a region or district) resembling another country or town in miniaturelittle Venice
little game a person's secret intention or businessso that's his little game!
no little considerable

adverb

(usually preceded by a) in a small amount; to a small extent or degree; not a lotto laugh a little
(used preceding a verb) not at all, or hardlyhe little realized his fate
not much or oftenwe go there very little now
little by little by small degrees

Word Origin for little

Old English lӯtel; related to lӯr few, Old High German luzzil
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for a little

little

adj.

Old English lytel "not large, not much; short in distance or time; unimportant," also used in late Old English as a noun, "small piece; a short time," from West Germanic *lutilla- (cf. Old Saxon luttil, Dutch luttel, Old High German luzzil, German lützel, Gothic leitils "little"), perhaps originally a diminutive of the root of Old English lyt "little, few," from PIE *leud- "small." "Often synonymous with small, but capable of emotional implications which small is not" [OED].

Phrase the little woman "wife" attested from 1795. Little people "the faeries" is from 1726; as "children," it is attested from 1752; as "ordinary people" (opposed to the great), it is attested from 1827. Little Neck clams (1884) are so called for Little Neck, Long Island, a "neck" of land on the island's North Shore. Little by little is from late 15c. (litylle be litille). Little green men "space aliens" is from 1950. Little black dress is from 1939.

At the beginning of summer, smart women who stay in town like to wear sheer "little black dresses." Because most "little black dresses" look alike, retailers struggle each year to find something which will make them seem new. ["Life," June 13, 1939]

Little Orphan Annie originally was (as Little Orphant Annie) the character in James Whitcomb Riley's 1885 poem, originally titled "Elf Child." The U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York "Daily News."

LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you
Don't
Watch
Out!

[Riley, "Elf Child"]

little

v.

OE lytlian, from root of little (adj.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with a little

a little

1

A small amount, as in Will you have some more meat? Yes, just a little. [Early 1400s]

2

Somewhat or rather, slightly, as in I am a little annoyed with Harry. [Late 1300s] For a synonym, see a bit.

little

In addition to the idioms beginning with little

  • little bird told one, a
  • little by little
  • little frog in a big pond
  • little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a
  • little pitchers have big ears

also see:

  • a little
  • every little bit helps
  • in one's own (little) world
  • make little of
  • precious few (little)
  • think little of
  • to little purpose
  • too little, too late
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.