A tad / a bit / a little

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Arbiter, Aug 15, 2008.

  1. Arbiter

    Arbiter Senior Member

    French | Français
    Hello all,

    I was wondering what difference there is between "a tad", "a bit" and "a little". Are they interchangeable? Is one more formal than the others? Could you give some examples where you would rather use one than the others, and explain your choice?

    Thanks for your help :)
  2. cropje_jnr

    cropje_jnr Senior Member

    Canberra, Australia
    English - Australia
    'A tad' is quite British-sounding and is not particularly frequent in many parts of the English-speaking world today. It is almost exclusively conversational, even familiar.

    'A bit' is probably the most idiomatic and conversational of the three - you would generally seek to avoid it if writing in a formal context.

    'A little' is generally the most common, 'standard' option and is the most neutral in its degree of formality. It can often be used in all types of contexts - formal or familiar.

    Conversationally (for the most part), we often combine the second two to make 'a little bit' ('un petit peu' - just as Britons sometimes say 'a wee tad' ;)).

    Their use is generally identical although in specific sentence structures they can differ slightly - e.g. 'it's a little/bit cold outside today' but 'there's a (little) bit of cloud cover' versus 'there's a little cloud cover'.
  3. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    In AE the three are fairly interchangeable. Tad being the least formal, then bit, then little.

    "Tad" is originally AE, so you'll have to check if its used in BE at all.
  4. Arbiter

    Arbiter Senior Member

    French | Français
    Very clear ! Thanks a little lot to both of you ! :)
  5. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    a tad doesn't sound at all British to me--I hear it in AE frequently, but it does sound less formal than a little bit (a tad is less that a little)
    maybe un tantinet

    a bit and a little are similar

    more formal with an adjective: somewhat ________

    Somewhat less expensive
    A bit less expensive
    A little bit less expensive
    A tad less expensive
  6. cropje_jnr

    cropje_jnr Senior Member

    Canberra, Australia
    English - Australia
    It's interesting to hear that 'tad' comes from AE, as the only people who I generally hear use it are British!
  7. Arbiter

    Arbiter Senior Member

    French | Français
    Absolutely, I was under the same impression.
  8. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    I use it all the time, but I'm a tad daft! Ask anybody.

    OED lists it as "originally and chiefly N. Amer" and the first citation comes from a 1940 article in American Speech.

    The date is interesting, considering the influx of Yanks onto the British Isles in the coming years.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2008
  9. ratonlaveur Member

    In BE in Scotland you would say 'a wee bit.' However, a 'wee tad' cannot be said I'm afraid. Both 'a tad' and 'a wee bit' are definitely part of the spoken corpus. In offical writen texts, 'slightly' or 'little' could be used.
  10. shaloo

    shaloo Senior Member

    Thats an interesting discussion... And "tad" is a relatively new word to me.

    Well, the first impression when I read "tad" sounds quite opposite than what it originally means!! To my Indian ears, tad expensive sounds like: its more expensive (as opposed to a little expensive!)

    (I'm not an anglophone. But most of my teachers at school were Anglo-Indians and I'm particularly fond of the Britons' English.)
  11. gillz New Member

    Italian - Northern Italy
    I have a question about the use of "a bit".

    If someone ask: Do you speak English? Is it correct to answer "a bit"?
    Does it sound strange in AE or BE?
    When I use this expression, I often get a laugh. So I was wondering.. ;D
  12. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    It's correct and not really laughable. More common, however, would be to reply to such a question with: A little bit
  13. gillz New Member

    Italian - Northern Italy
    Thank you Wildan
  14. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I've noticed that writers in many rifle, handgun and firearms publications use "tad" all the time--so much so that it jumps out at you. In other publications you can read a year's worth of magazines and maybe see just one "tad". But in the firearms publications it is not unusual to come across a single issue with three or more "tads".

    I'm wondering if the "tads" are a nature or nurture thing. Or if there is a DNA marker that makes one more disposed to using "tads". Hmmm.

    But since firearms are a manly subject I would therefore say that "tad" is more masculine than "a bit" or "a little".
  15. askmore

    askmore Member

    Canada - English
    In my experiece, I have found that people use "a bit", or even "a little bit" much more frequently than "a tad".

    But maybe that's just me.
  16. To my ears, "tad" has taken on a slightly old-fashioned or fussy sound. Maybe it's regional, but I don't hear people say it very often in my part of the country, except in an ironic way.

    "A bit" is common, but not so common as "a little bit." "A little" is the most common of all.
  17. agentblue

    agentblue Member

    England-Hindi & English
    e.g - Thats a tad boring
    - I would like a bit of butter please.
    - You're a little short to go on that ride.
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think it came and went amongst younger people around here about fifteen years ago or so.

    I looked in the Corpus of Historical American English and I see that it was most popular in the 1920s, gradually dropping off to the 1960s and 1970s, then gradually increasing again to about the same level as the 1920s in the current decade.

    Frequency of use it about the same in both BNC and COCA.

    BNC - British National Corpus
    COCA - Corpus of Contemporary American English
    COHA - Corpus of Historical American English
  19. ratonlaveur Member

    more likely, you would say 'a little' or 'a bit'

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