Small vs little

Hi teachers,

I’m not quite sure of the difference in meaning between “small” and “little”.

Example: small boy vs lillte boy.

What is the difference between them?

Thank in advance


There isn’t any difference between a small boy and a little boy.

In some situations “little” sounds more juvenile than “small”, so I’d avoid “little” in extremely formal situations, but otherwise there’s no difference that I can detect.

Small is used most of the time when forming comparatives and superlatives.

There are some odd differences that you will run across, Jupiter. For instance, little carries an emotional factor that small usually does not: a strange little creature, a little troublemaker. Also, little tends to be more a premodifier: You made some small/little mistakes vs your mistakes were small / (?) little.


‘Little’ is often used in a derogatory and abstract sense as in: of little importance/significance. Little help was offered to the poor. (not much) She showed little interest in his remarks. Small often relates to physical size with objects/people - a small person/ a small present/gift.


What this means is that “little” can be used as a quantifier, denoting the amount of something, whereas “small” denotes size.


Jupiter … the use of ‘small’ when referring to a boy would reflect only his size and could be used whether the boy was 3 years old or 13. “Little” goes to age or maturity level and one might refer to an 8 year old (for example) as a ‘little’ boy even though he might be no shorter than average… or possibly even taller. Since young boys are generally of short stature, the two terms can often be used in reference to the same child.

Small and little are both adjectives. We use small to talk about the size of something.
Your cat is very small.
Can I have two small pizzas please?

We can use little to refer to size, but we usually use it with another adjective to express an emotion.
You’re a silly little boy.
Nobody’s looking after that poor little dog.

In comparative and superlative form, small is more common in British English, and little is more common in American English.
That’s the smallest phone I’ve ever seen. (British English)
That’s the littlest phone I’ve ever seen. (American English)



One thing I can already tell you is that I’ve been taught “little” cannot be used as a predicate.

  • the house is little: NO
    the house is small: YES

This is nonsense. I wonder who made it up.

In both countries, “littlest” is used primarily by preschool children, but by the age of 9 everybody says “smallest”.

More nonsense. Both are possible, but it’s somewhat uncommon and a bit childish-sounding to say, “The house is little.” It’s not actually wrong, though.