The Difference Between Little & Small – English Vocabulary Lesson

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When you want to describe size, either small or little could be used, although small is more common:

  • I have a small pen case (or) I have a little pen case.
  • They live in a small house (or) They live in a little house.
  • Jack drinks scotch from a small antique glass (or) Jack drinks scotch from a little antique glass

Little is also used to mean young when talking about children, whereas small could be used to describe the height of the child:

  • Jack is a polite little boy → This means Jack is a polite young boy.
  • There are several little children playing in the park.
  • Jack is small for his age.
  • Small children cannot ride this roller coaster.

We also use little (or) a little + non-countable noun to talk about quantity. When used this way, little has a negative nuance or the feeling of dissatisfaction and a little has a positive nuance or the feeling of satisfaction:

  • I have little free time this afternoon, so I can not complete my work.→ This means I only have a small amount of time and I am not satisfied with that.
  • I have a little free time this afternoon, so I think I can complete my work. → This means I have a small amount of time and I am satisfied with that.

We also use a little bit of + noun to talk about a small quantity.

  • You have a little bit of mustard on your shirt. Did you eat a hot dog?
  • I ate a little bit of the potato salad. It is very delicious.

Little can also be used to show that something is not very significant. We generally do not use small in this way:

  • I had a little trouble with the computer today. Not, I had a small trouble with the computer.
  • Jack said he had a little situation with his sister last night. It seems like now everything is ok.

Small is also used in comparative sentences. It is uncommon to use little this way:

  • Cats are generally smaller than dogs. Not, Cats are generally littler than dogs
  • That is the smallest coffee cup I have ever seen!

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