A bit/little on the + adjective + side

Mr Bones

Senior Member
España - Español
Hello, everybody. I've just learnt this expression and would like to ask you a couple of things about it.

Somewhere, I read the following:

He's a bit on the young side.
He's a little on the young side.

(I don't remember which one I found)

Then I realized that you can use this as a fixed structure and change the adjective. So, we could have these examples:

She's a little on the weird side.
He's a bit on the tough side.
John is a little on the fussy side.

Then, my questions are:

1. Am I right? Can I use that and say things like, He's a bit on the bossy side, for instance?

2. I assume that this is an informal kind of speech. Is it normal in conversation? Can I use it in writing?

3. Does the choice between a bit or a little mean something about BE or AE?

4. Is this formula a bit on the ironic side?

Thank you, Mr Bones (and, please, correct my English).
 
  • petereid

    Senior Member
    english
    1. Am I right? Can I use that and say things like, He's a bit on the bossy side, for instance?:tick:

    2. I assume that this is an informal kind of speech. Is it normal in conversation? Can I use it in writing?:tick:

    3. Does the choice between a bit or a little mean something about BE or AE?
    Not that I know of

    4. Is this formula a bit on the ironic side? It may be, but not necessarily so.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    I can affirm that "a bit on xyz side" is a commonplace here in Ireland and has been since, at least, my mother first criticised my choice of clothing, asking when I spurned her choice of shirt "Isn't that a bit on the loud side?"
    She won out by the time-honoured parental expedient of baffling the child with an unarguable assertion "I won't wash well. Better stick with my choice dear."
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This expression is generally OK, but should be used sparingly.

    It is not inherently ironic, but it could be.
    It is often (in my experience) used to make a deliberate understatement.

    How was your holiday?
    It was a bit on the hot side (average shade temperature 45 degrees).

    Did you enjoy the steak?
    It was a bit on the tough side (could well have been used as shoe leather).​
     

    Mr Bones

    Senior Member
    España - Español
    Hi, Max and Panj. Thank you (I love this site and your answers). Just a last thing. When I asked about little or bit, it was because I've always thought that the use of bit in this case is more BE than AE. Maybe some AE speaker can help me...

    Bones
     

    Cayuga

    Senior Member
    English/USA
    Just a last thing. When I asked about little or bit, it was because I've always thought that the use of bit in this case is more BE than AE. Maybe some AE speaker can help me...
    Hey, Bones!

    I'm an American, and I have said:

    X is a little on the Y side.
    X is a bit on the Y side.
    X is a little bit on the Y side.

    I'm guessing that my choice would be based on the rhythm of the sentence -- whichever one would sound best.
     

    Mr Bones

    Senior Member
    España - Español
    Thank you very much, Cayuga. Now I have the American opinion I was looking for as well. By the way, I don't know why I fell for this expression that much. Maybe it's a combination of things: the rhythm you've just mentioned, the understatement pointed out by Panj, the possibility of irony... Perhaps also the fact that it sounds like typical of spoken English, and that's something I appreciate a lot because it's more difficult to learn for me, since I hardly ever have the opportunity to speak English... But I'll follow Panj's advice and use it sparingly.

    Thanks to all of you, again. Mr Bones.
     

    Mr Bones

    Senior Member
    España - Español
    Yes, I know two versions of that expression. The first meaning something like having a lover, and the second one meaning owning money. Bones.
     

    Claire Steiner

    New Member
    English, United States
    Both are OK, but they can be used to indicate different degrees of respect or emphasis, as far as the speaker is concerned. "a little on the ____ side" usually is not an ironic usage, or if it is, it is meant in a kind way - to "soften the blow" so to speak. "a bit on the ____ side" very often is said with a falling intonation (at least in the US) and is the inverse of what it says (i.e. "it's REALLY ____"). It's nearly hyperbole, actually.
     

    Anushka Athukorala

    Senior Member
    Sinhalese
    Hello Members
    I'm interested to if "the comparative" and "the Superlative" forms of adjectives are possible with this expression. The below is an example from Cambridge dictionary.

    This dress is on the large side for me.
    Can I say
    "This dress is on the larger side for me."
    "This dress is on the largest side for me."
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The comparative and superlative as in your #16 aren't used.

    in my #17 I wondered whether anyone might use the comparative as in my example, but it seems not. I wouldn't either.:)
     

    Anushka Athukorala

    Senior Member
    Sinhalese
    The comparative and superlative as in your #16 aren't used.

    in my #17 I wondered whether anyone might use the comparative as in my example, but it seems not. I wouldn't either.:)
    Thank you very much for your confirmation. I understand that no native English speaker uses the " comparative and superlative forms" with side therefore only the ordinary adjectives are used with this expression. What do you think about my examples below?
    A. Your dog's legs are on the thin side.
    B. The sky is on the gloomy side.
    C. The chicken is on the spicy side.
    Do these sentences sound natural to you?
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    :thumbsup:You've used the expression correctly, but the remark about the sky seems to me unlikely.

    A - Your dog's legs are on the thin side.:tick:
    No, your dog isn't too fat. In fact, I'd say he's a bit on the thin side.:tick:

    B -
    The sky is on the gloomy side.
    This one immediately strikes me as odd, though not impossible. We I don't usually think about the sky as being gloomy or cheerful. The weather here is on the gloomy side today.:tick:

    (I'd use "on the gloomy side" in a different expression: He always looks on the gloomy side of life. To look on the bright/gloomy side is a set expression.)

    C - The chicken is on the spicy side.:tick:
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I think Panjandrum's observations in #5 are very perceptive.

    His point about understatement is good. If someone told me "This chicken is on the spicy side", I'd take it as a warning that it's very hot or very heavily spiced.
     

    RandomQuestion

    Member
    English - UK
    A. Your dog's legs are on the thin side.
    B. The sky is on the gloomy side.
    C. The chicken is on the spicy side.
    Do these sentences sound natural to you?
    They don't sound natural.
    A. could be used humorously. Same with C.
    But this sort of humour is something I would expect from an old person, say, 50 or 60 years old.
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thank you very much for your confirmation. I understand that no native English speaker uses the " comparative and superlative forms" with side therefore only the ordinary adjectives are used with this expression. What do you think about my examples below?
    A. Your dog's legs are on the thin side.
    B. The sky is on the gloomy side.
    C. The chicken is on the spicy side.
    Do these sentences sound natural to you?
    A and C sound perfectly natural.

    an old person, say, 50 or 60 years old.
    :confused: This sounds a bit on the nonsensical side.
     

    RandomQuestion

    Member
    English - UK
    :confused: This sounds a bit on the nonsensical side.
    I think it is one of these phrases that people used to grow up with, say, 30 or 40 years ago, but we don't use them anymore.
    So we don't use it, but older people might be familiar with and use it from time to time.
    It doesn't sound natural to me when I hear it from someone who is young.
    It does sound natural if it is said by an older person or if it's written down.
    As long as it is used humorously.

    South of England here.
     
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