Meaning of “little” in the English Dictionary

"little" in British English

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uk /ˈlɪt.əl/ us /ˈlɪt̬.əl/

little adjective (SMALL)

A1 small in size or amount:

It came in a little box.
a little dog/nose/room
A little old man came into the room.
He gave a little smile.
It'll only take a little while to clear up the kitchen.
a little something

a small amount of food or drink:

I always like to have a little something around eleven o'clock in the morning.

a present that is not of great value:

I want to buy a little something to give to Val when I visit her in hospital.

More examples

  • The dog's name was engraved on a little metal disc attached to its collar.
  • We tried to arrange a ceremony with as little fuss as possible.
  • Hyperactive children often have poor concentration and require very little sleep.
  • Several little boats escorted the sailing ship into the harbour.
  • You turn this little knob to adjust the volume.

little adjective (YOUNG)

A1 young:

When you were little your hair was really curly.
She was my little (= younger) sister and I took care of her.
Her little boy (= her young son) isn't well.

More examples

  • One little girl was clinging onto a cuddly toy.
  • It became clear that he wasn't developing like all the other little boys.
  • She's always fussing over that son of hers as if he were a little boy.
  • Emily is Sophie's little sister.
  • I lived here when I was little.

little adjective (EMPHASIZE)

B2 [ before noun ] used to emphasize an opinion that is being given about something or someone:

That was a nice little suit she was wearing.
It's not a bad little restaurant, is it?
He's a nasty little man.

More examples

  • I'm not interested in all their silly little likes and dislikes.
  • You told Mrs Cooper that it was me who tipped the paint over, didn't you - you nasty little sneak!
  • I had a nice little snooze in the back of the car.
  • All you ate was a tiddly little piece of cake.
  • You little liar! You know that's not true!


uk /ˈlɪt.əl/ us /ˈlɪt̬.əl/

little determiner (NOT ENOUGH)

B1 not much or enough:

There seems little hope of a ceasefire.
They have very little money.
There's so little choice.

More examples

  • The new building has little aesthetic value.
  • There's very little communication between mother and daughter .
  • The hut afforded little protection from the elements.
  • The money was of little consequence to Tony.
  • Too little exercise is a contributory factor in heart disease.

littlepronoun, noun

uk /ˈlɪt.əl/ us /ˈlɪt̬.əl/

little pronoun, noun (SMALL AMOUNT)

B1 [ S ] a small amount:

I could only hear a little of what they were saying.
He does as little as possible at work.
There's not much flour left but you're welcome to the/what little there is.

More examples

  • We ate a little of the bread.
  • He gave us a little of his money.
  • I already knew a little of what he had to say.
  • She eats as little as she can.
  • You can see what little I have.

little pronoun, noun (NOT ENOUGH)

B1 an amount that is not much or not enough:

We did very little on Sunday.
Very little of what he said made any sense to me.
Unfortunately, little of the artist's work has survived.
The government has done little or nothing to help the poorest people in this country.
The little we do know about the people who lived here suggests they had a very sophisticated society.

More examples

  • I spent most of my money in the first week and consequently had very little to eat by the end of the holiday.
  • Very little of his art appeals to me.
  • Little of what she said seemed relevant.
  • They have done little to improve their situation.
  • We can do very little to help them.


uk /ˈlɪt.əl/ us /ˈlɪt̬.əl/

little adverb (SMALL AMOUNT)

a little (bit)

More examples

  • The ice-cream was a little bit sweet for me.
  • Could you speak a little louder, please?
  • I'm quite tired but I can certainly walk a little further.
  • She's recovering well from her operation, but she's still a little shaky on her feet.
  • Well, you could try to look a little more enthusiastic!

A2 slightly:

I was a little bit worried by what she said.
We'll wait a little longer and then I'll phone them.
There's only a little further to go.
little by little

B2 slowly or gradually:

Little by little she came to understand why he had behaved the way he did.

(Definition of “little” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"little" in American English

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us /ˈlɪt̬·əl/

little adjective (SMALL)

[ -er/-est only ] small in size or amount, or brief in time:

She has a little room on the top floor where she works on her computer.
They have very little money.
It’ll take me a little while longer to get ready.

[ -er/-est only ] Little can be used with approving words for emphasis:

They have a nice little house.

little adjective (YOUNG)

[ -er/-est only ] young:

When you were little, you and your brother were always fighting.
My little brother/sister (= younger brother or sister) is seven years old.
He stayed home from work today because his little boy/girl (= young son or daughter) is sick.

little adjective (NOT IMPORTANT)

[ not gradable ] not important or not serious:

I had a little problem with my car, but it’s fixed now.


us /ˈlɪt̬·əl/ comparative less /les/ , superlative least /list/

little adverb (NOT MUCH)

not much:

The county has done little to improve the traffic problem.
It’s a little-known fact that technically ticks are not insects.
a little

A little means slightly:

She was a little frightened.
You’re walking a little too fast for me.

littlepronoun, noun [ U ]

us /ˈlɪt̬·əl/

little pronoun, noun [ U ] (SMALL)

a small amount:

I could understand very little of what he said.
a little

A little means a small amount of something:

"Do we have any sugar left?" "A little."

(Definition of “little” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

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