a slight, superficial, or introductory knowledge of something: a smattering of Latin.


slight or superficial.

Origin of smattering

First recorded in 1530–40; smatter + -ing1, -ing2
Related formssmat·ter·ing·ly, adverb



verb (used with object)

to speak (a language, words, etc.) with superficial knowledge or understanding.
to dabble in.


slight or superficial knowledge; smattering.

Origin of smatter

1300–50; Middle English; perhaps < Scandinavian; compare Danish, Norwegian smadre to splash, swash, Swedish smattra to clatter, rattle; compare Middle Low German smetern to chatter Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for smattering

modicum, smidgen, little, basics, bit, smidge, elements, tad

Examples from the Web for smattering

Contemporary Examples of smattering

Historical Examples of smattering

  • He had a smattering of most things, this uncle, especially the vocabularies.

    The Golden Age

    Kenneth Grahame

  • I had, therefore, only a smattering knowledge of the theory of this duty.

    War from the Inside

    Frederick L. (Frederick Lyman) Hitchcock

  • Then, again, he must have a smattering of French, and affect to be above old England.

    The English Spy

    Bernard Blackmantle

  • A smattering of English Literature, and less than a smattering of French.

    The Longest Journey

    E. M. Forster

  • To buy them wisely, a smattering of their history is a requisite.

    The Tapestry Book

    Helen Churchill Candee

British Dictionary definitions for smattering



a slight or superficial knowledge
a small amount
Derived Formssmatteringly, adverb



a smattering


(intr) rare to prattle
(tr) archaic to dabble in
Derived Formssmatterer, noun

Word Origin for smatter

C14 (in the sense: to prattle): of uncertain origin; compare Middle High German smetern to gossip
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 smattering

"a slight or superficial knowledge," 1530s, verbal noun from smatter (v.).



early 15c., "talk idly, chatter; talk ignorantly or superficially," of uncertain origin, perhaps imitative. Similar forms are found in Middle High German smetern "to chatter" and Swedish smattra "to patter, rattle," and cf. Danish snaddre "chatter, jabber," Dutch snateren, German schnattern "cackle, chatter, prattle." Related: Smattered; smattering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper