Submitted by scott  •  June 30, 2005

Littler

Can I replace smaller with littler always, sometimes, or never. Is the use of littler ever proper?

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I'm not sure why it should be thought ungrammatical, just unusual. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary simply says: "The forms littler and littlest are rare. It is more common to use smaller and smallest" (Or, I would add, younger and youngest)

As for 'facilitating understanding', would anyone really have comprehension problems with - "I don't want to hear anymore of this crap! I don't care who started it! Now stop picking on your sister. She's littler than you." (College and Eighth, by Herbert Hyde)?

Children commonly use 'littler' and adults talk of 'your little sister' etc, so there's no real problem in understanding. And with children, younger usually does mean smaller, so that's a bit of a pedantic red herring, I would say.

William Faulkner seems to use it quite a bit, for example in The Unvanquished - "and the shawl drawn tight over her shoulders where she had her arms folded in it so that she looked littler than anybody I could remember" - but here the narrator is a young boy. As is the narrator in J.M.Barrie's Sentimental Tommy:

'Tommy would have blubbered. "It's—it's littler than I thought," he said desperately, "but—the minister, oh, what a wonderful big man he is!" '

And talking of young boys, here's William of 'Just William' fame (for older Brits, at least), but I'm not sure I'd want to sound like him:

'Well, that's a silly thing to do!' said William sternly, 'tellin' 'em it's littler than Wembley before they've come to it. Even if it is littler than Wembley we needn't tellem so.' 'Let's call it just Wembley,' suggested Douglas. 'No,' said William, 'it would be muddlin' havin' 'em both called by the same name. Folks wouldn't know which they was talkin' about' (Still William - Rachel Compton) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_William

That's really the main problem with 'littler' - it is rather associated with children, or adults talking to children.

On the other hand there's Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid's attack on Chamberlain - "Littler than Hitler" - but that has more to do with word-play.

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I see lots of comments about opinion and feeling. I feel much littler about this topic than you, so I will use the word. Feel better or littler now? (Not to wax condescending)...
Writing is an art, not a legalistic movement so I say toss off with your restrictive feelings...

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The use of "littler" as an adjective is relatively modern and despite now appearing in several dictionaries, I would still maintain, is grammatically incorrect. If I have two brothers and I am the eldest, then one is my younger brother, the other is my youngest brother. Even if you allow for "littler" being correct, the word would none the less refer to the physical size of your respective brother, not their age. Using language in the correct way has nothing to do with elitism, it facilitates understanding. What is the point of communicating with someone, in the same language, if they are not going to understand you. Gitit?

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It's a good thing that the "non-standard" designation is only important to elitists! Thanks, Fred.

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While "littler" may be found in the Dictionary, it should also be noted that it states that "littler" is considered "non-standard" English; just the same way "ain't" is a word, but considered non-standard.

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The English say, "I am a bit smarter than you." U. S. of Americans say, "I am a little smarter than you." Both are idiomatic. If someone tells you one is better than the other, you can be sure that she/he is not at all smarter than you.

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Okay so this kid younger then me was chirpin and i said hit me, then he said to hit him, my response was "I'm not hitting you your littler then me" I thought it was right but my friend laughed. lol is it right or what!?

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RE: "We learn not to add comparitive [sic] suffixes to words with more than one syllable."

Really? What about happier, sillier, hairier, (nearly any adjective ending in -y becomes -ier, comparatively), simpler, subtler, ampler, brittler, (nearly any adjective ending in -le...) etc., etc....

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My boyfriend says "littler" all the time. It makes me cringe. I thought for sure it was incorrect. I looked it up today. The word "littler" is in Webster's dictionary. We learn not to add comparitive suffixes to words with more than one syllable. He say's I am the most beautifulest woman. Is that proper too?

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What grammatical rule do "littler" and "littlest" break? They follow the normal rule for forming comparatives and superlatives from adjectives. Is there a special rule that the normal rule cannot be applied to "little" for some reason? What on Earth could that reason be? Their meaning is perfectly clear and unambiguous, so using them does not violate the most fundamental rule of good writing, which is to be clear. Furthermore, people actually do use them: They are words of the English language.

I do not know what the OED means by saying they are unrecognized. Who does not recognize them? They will be more widely understood by native English speakers than probably 90% of the other words in the OED. Who has the authority to exclude them from the language? A prejudice against them does seem to exist, but, so far as I can see, it is utterly baseless and silly.

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I AM a speech therapist and AM from the south. I saw the word on my son's 4th grade spelling list and went to the web to see if it is really a word. I would have bet money against it too. I don't think it sounds cute; I think it sounds immature and grammatically incorrect. It is interesting to find out that it is a real word, but I wouldn't use it and I don't want my son to use it either.

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The OED:
"some writers have ventured to employ the unrecognized forms littler, littlest, which are otherwise confined to dialect or imitations of childish or illiterate speech."

1849 THACKERAY Pendennis xxi, She was called tall and gawky by some..of her own sex, who prefer littler women.

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Jul-22-07 4:21AM

Little, littler, littlest....

What's wrong with using littler? It is grammatically correct. If it's used for size, go ahead! I like littler too. It is cute.

:-))

There is nothing wrong with using it, but it is not grammatically correct in any form of speech.

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Since this is a grammer site, my first sentence is incorrect. It should be i was told. sry!

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I used littler today and I got told it wasn't a word. That is what brought me to this site. I said "When my brother was littler..." I looked it up and it is a word but that doen't mean it is proper english. I'm still going to use the word though because it's more fun than smaller!!!!!! =]

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I, was always taught that "littler" was not a word. Just recently I lost a considerable bet with a freind when the word was found in the dictionary. When was this word placed in the dictionary as a word?

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I, personally, don't use it because I don't think it sounds right. I also think somewhere in my early education I was told not to use the word "littler". I hear others use from time to time but each his own I guess. Oo a side note, I can tell you (Yien and Bo) that "excepted" means "exclude" or "leave out". I think you meant "accepted", but that's not the topic here!

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I came across littler and littlest in my english book, and I have always heard Littlest is NOT a word. I think it is much easier to use smaller, least etc. when possible so there is NO question if it is right or wrong !

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I was in a speech class with special needs children and when the speech teacher used the word "littler" I had to go online to look up the meaning. I had always been taught that "littler" was not a word. Confusing to me, I don't have a degree in speech but from what I had been taught I find it should not be used and prefer the word smaller and I agree with Sean that it is illiterate speech and I am from the south!

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Little, littler, littlest....

What's wrong with using littler? It is grammatically correct. If it's used for size, go ahead! I like littler too. It is cute.
:-))

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I like littler. I'm going to use it now. Thanks guys!

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Yes,
The problem is when we all excepted little as meaning younger. Why did we do this?!?!?!?

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Here's the problem: little can mean younger in the dictionary. In the sentence, "He's my little brother," you could take out "little" and replace it with "younger" and no one would complain. So, if these two words are synonymous, then one should be able to say "He's younger than me." or "He's little than me." But you can't say "He's little than me." without raising eyebrows. So by default, "littler" is assumed to be a word. Everyone knows that small and little are interchangeable. So if "small" can turn into "smaller", then "little" can turn into "littler", right?

The problem is when people excepted "little" as being an acceptable substitute for "younger". "Little" originally referred to size. Then people started referring to younger siblings as being little because, in most cases, when someone is younger than another, they are also smaller. But obviously this is not always true. As a matter of fact, my younger brother is taller than me. I suspect that "little" as "younger" must have originated as slang. Being such, trying to fit a slang word into the rules of grammar causes the problem being discussed here.

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NY - I think we would congratulate you on the birth of your youngest brother. I conveniently agree with the OED quote. The middle brother would be likely to say, "He's littler than me." But I can't see you using the word, unless completely informally in speech.

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NY said, "He's my littler brother, not my smaller one or my lesser one."

Technically, this would be a use of littler, but it would still be awkward and a non standard usage. By convention, he is still your little brother. You would modify that with new, smaller, or whatever if appropriate.

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When I saw the title to this "Littler" I thought it was a joke. As in "Literary Hitler" -- Littler. The grammar police. NO OFFENSE!

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Suppose I have a younger brother. He's my little brother. Now my parents have another son. He's my littler brother, not my smaller one or my lesser one.


Gary

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You should try to avoid using "littler" when you can instead use "smaller," "less," or "lesser."

I find the Oxford English Dictionary's note very helpful:

"Little: A. adj. The opposite of great or much. Compar. LESS, LESSER; superl. LEAST.

These forms, however, are not quite coextensive in application with the positive, so that in certain uses the adj. has no recognized mode of comparison. The difficulty is commonly evaded by resort to a synonym (as smaller, smallest); some writers have ventured to employ the unrecognized forms littler, littlest, which are otherwise confined to dialect or imitations of childish or illiterate speech."

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I have never heard "littler" used, however it is in my English dictionary. I assume that most English grammarians would say that one should usually (if not always) use "smaller" instead of "littler."

But I could be wrong. I haven't heard everything! :-)

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