little (adj) - comparison

Discussion in 'English Only' started by majlo, Sep 13, 2006.

  1. Today, I came across an odd - at least to me - comparison of the adjective little: little - littler - littlest.

    As far as I know, this is an exception to the rule and you compare it like this: little - smaller - smallest. Please, correct if I'm wrong, but I presume the former is a wrong one. My question is do you often come across this version? Is it used?

    Thank you in advance.
  2. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    "Littler" and "Littlest" are not proper words and would not be used.
  3. gwrthgymdeithasol Senior Member

    English, Wales
    They *are* indeed 'proper' words, and are quite common, at least in Britain. 'Small' and 'little' are separate words, albeit with very similar meanings.
  4. konungursvia Banned

    Canada (English)
    Little and littler are indeed correct words, just uncommon on our side of the Atlantic.
  5. Now I'm dumbstruck ;)
  6. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    My apologies. I have just never heard anyone in my life (longer than I care to admit! ;) ) ever use the words "Littler" or "Littlest" (except for the TV Series "The Littlest Hobo" - recognize that one, fellow Canadian?) and I always thought that title was used because that's how children talk... ah well, live and learn. :)
  7. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I think it depends on context in the U.S., at least. "Littler" and "littlest" strike me as "cute" words.

    It's not unusual to hear something like "they have three children, and their littlest one is 18 months old." I can also imagine hearing, "She has the littlest compact car you have ever seen." I've seen the word quite often in children's book titles.

    I think "littlest" gets used more than "littler". That's just a completely subjective viewpoint, though.
  8. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    There's a well-known book titled The Littlest Angel.
  9. How do you pronounce it then? Is the dark /l/ silent?
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    In AE, at least, it's pronounced in three syllables, as far as I've heard. It is "lih-tuhl-ist" (sorry, I'm useless with IPA or any other actual descriptive symbolism of the sounds.)
  11. gwrthgymdeithasol Senior Member

    English, Wales
    I pronounce it (as do most British speakers) just like 'little' with an 'uh' or 'ist' sound on the end, sometimes/often dropping the schwa sound between the 't' and 'l'. (I use the word all the time, by the way, with no 'cutesy' connotation.)
  12. Do many people in your environment use this word?

    If my English grammar lecturer doesn't know about it, she'd get a heart attack if she found out. But if she knows about it, I wish she'd told us about that :(
  13. gwrthgymdeithasol Senior Member

    English, Wales
    I'd say (subjectively) it's not as widespread as 'small', and the two words don't share all their senses exactly, but it is nonetheless in common, everyday use (throughout the UK).
  14. Would you please explain to me the nuances of meaning? :)
  15. gwrthgymdeithasol Senior Member

    English, Wales
    Well, to put it briefly: a physical object can usually be described with very little or no difference in meaning as little or small. For many speakers I think, the bigger something is in absolute terms, the more likely you'd be to use small, and the more likely it'd be that 'little' would imply some kind of 'emotional attachment' to the object (Little House on the Prairie implies it's a 'homely' place, whereas Small, no...). On the other hand, I could say Andorra is a little country or a small one: most native English speakers would probably use the latter, but some (including me) regularly use the former, with no difference in meaning.

    Of abstract things, little would be much more likely: a little idea, our little love etc. Small rarely works in these senses, as it seems to imply a physicality. On the other hand, small has figurative meanings of its own that little can rarely take: a small mind, a small personality etc.

    That wasn't very brief :-(
  16. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    My goodness me - what a vigorous campaign in favour of words that are normally considered to be "... dialect or imitations of childish or illiterate speech" ;)

    Of course I have heard littler and littlest.
    They will be familiar to anyone who speaks regularly with people who are under five.

    The OED and I support majlo's original suggestion.
    You will see majlo's in the first post.
    Here is the OED's view:

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