a little


adjective, littler or less or lesser, littlest or least.
small in size; not big; not large; tiny: a little desk in the corner of the room.
short in duration; not extensive; short; brief: a little while.
small in number: a little group of scientists.
small in amount or degree; not much: little hope.
of a certain amount; appreciable (usually preceded by a ): We're having a little difficulty.
being such on a small scale: little farmers.
younger or youngest: He's my little brother.
not strong, forceful, or loud; weak: a little voice.
small in consideration, importance, position, affluence, etc.: little discomforts; tax reductions to help the little fellow.
mean, narrow, or illiberal: a little mind.
endearingly small or considered as such: Bless your little heart!
amusingly small or so considered: a funny little way of laughing.
contemptibly small, petty, mean, etc., or so considered: filthy little political tricks.
adverb, less, least.
not at all (used before a verb): He little knows what awaits him.
in only a small amount or degree; not much; slightly: a little-known work of art; little better than a previous effort.
seldom; rarely; infrequently: We see each other very little.
a small amount, quantity, or degree: They did little to make him comfortable. If you want some ice cream, there's a little in the refrigerator.
a short distance: It's down the road a little.
a short time: Stay here for a little.
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,
belittle: to make little of one's troubles.
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.

before 900; Middle English, Old English lȳtel (lȳt few, small + -el diminutive suffix), cognate with Dutch luttel, Old High German luzzil, Old Norse lītill

littlish [lit-l-ish, lit-lish] , adjective
littleness, noun

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.
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
little (ˈlɪtəl)
1.  (often preceded by a)
 a.  a small quantity, extent, or duration of: the little hope there is left; very little milk
 b.  (as pronoun): save a little for me
2.  not much: little damage was done
3.  make little of See make of
4.  not a little
 a.  very
 b.  a lot
5.  quite a little a considerable amount
6.  think little of to have a low opinion of
7.  of small or less than average size
8.  young: a little boy; our little ones
9.  endearingly familiar; dear: my husband's little ways
10.  contemptible, mean, or disagreeable: your filthy little mind
11.  (of a region or district) resembling another country or town in miniature: little Venice
12.  little game a person's secret intention or business: so that's his little game!
13.  no little considerable
14.  (usually preceded by a) in a small amount; to a small extent or degree; not a lot: to laugh a little
15.  (used preceding a verb) not at all, or hardly: he little realized his fate
16.  not much or often: we go there very little now
17.  little by little by small degrees
[Old English lӯtel; related to lӯr few, Old High German luzzil]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. lytel (related to lyt "little, few," from P.Gmc. *luti), from W.Gmc. *lutila- (cf. Du. luttel, O.H.G. luzzil, Ger. lützel, Goth. leitils), 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" 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).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

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.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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