Do you often use the idiomatic phrase “a little bit”? Or, do you avoid saying it because it seems redundant?
It is acceptable to say “a little bit”, although both “little” and “bit” have similar meanings. For example, you can use the idiomatic phrase “a little bit” with uncountable nouns, such as rice, sugar, or water. You can also use it with adverbs and adjectives when describing a verb or how you are feeling.
To learn more about the meaning of “a little bit” and how to use it correctly in writing and speaking, continue reading.
What Does “A Little Bit” Mean?
The phrase “a little bit” is simply another way to emphasize the idea of smallness, range of time, or significance.
The adjective “little” refers to something small, as in tiny (source), whereas the noun “bit” refers to a small piece or amount of something” (source).
An example using “little” would be, “I would like a little chocolate.” In addition to physical objects, you can also use the word “bit” when talking about “a short period of time.” For instance, “I am going to go out for a bit.”
When you combine these words to create the phrase “a little bit,” you are using it as a modifying phrase to say that something happens to some extent, similarly, or somewhat.
Is It Correct to Say “A Little Bit”?
It is acceptable to say “a little bit” when speaking informally. In English, we use phrases and idioms in everyday conversation. “A little bit” is a way of saying the piece of something or the amount of something in question is very small.
Imagine you are at a restaurant for dinner, and the server asks, “would you like more to drink?” or “would you like some pepper?” You can answer with “yes, I want a little bit more” or “yes, just a little bit, please.”
“A little bit” is also a simple phrase to describe how long something might take. For example, take a look at the conversation below:
“I’m getting hungry, Momma. How much longer?” Amy whined. “Yeah, me too. I am bored!” Michael added. “When are we going to be there?” “We’ll be there in a little bit. Please stop asking,” Sarah answered.
Here is another example:
“Do you want to go get coffee?” my coworker asked. “In a little bit. I need to finish up this report first,” I replied.
It is also okay to use this phrase to clarify how significant something is. For instance, you can say, “The local baseball team is doing a little bit better this year.”
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “A Little Bit”?
Although most consider “a little bit” to be an informal phrase, it is grammatically correct to use when the noun in your sentence is uncountable.
Uncountable nouns are nouns you cannot count quantitatively, such as water, air, or money (source). For instance, you could say something like, “The baby just drank a little bit of milk.”
If you want to provide more specific information about the quantity of a noun when you are using the phrase, you should add a possessive determiner, such as “your,” “my,” “his,” “her,” “our,” or “their.”
Possessive determiners introduce a noun that shows something belongs to someone. Generally, determiners always come before a noun or any other adjective you would use to describe the noun in a complete sentence.
For example, look at the following sentence without a determiner: “The baby drank a little bit of milk.
It would seem like the speaker is saying the baby drank some milk from a carton or jug that the family shares. Let’s see how placing “her” in front of the noun “milk” would change the message. In this case, the sentence would read, “The baby drank a little bit of her milk.”
Now, the speaker is saying that the baby drank milk specifically for her, such as formula or breastmilk.
It is also okay to use the definite article “the” with “a little bit” to introduce a specific noun. Here is an example: “I would like a little bit of the strawberry-flavored ice cream.”
A sentence and a phrase are both groups of words. However, a phrase doesn’t convey a complete thought, and it cannot stand on its own as a sentence does.
So, it is best to use “a little bit” in a complete sentence whenever you want to express a complete thought. Remember that “a little bit” is a phrase, and you must use it as such.
How Do You Use “A Little Bit”?
You can use “a little bit” when talking about quality. When doing so, always make sure the indefinite article “a” is in front of the word “little.”
Grammarians refer to words that define a noun as specific or unspecific as articles, and they have different functions. “A” introduces a general version of the noun, and it’s an indefinite article. In contrast, “the” is a definite article that introduces a specific noun.
- I listened to a little bit of a podcast today.”
This means the speaker listened to a podcast.
- I listened to a little bit of the podcast today.”
This means the speaker listened to a specific podcast.
“Little” sometimes implies a negative connotation, while “a little” conveys a positive one. “Little” can communicate that a small quality is a problem, whereas “a little” means the small quality is likely beneficial or has a positive connotation.
For instance, “We have little time” means the same as “We only have little time” and that time isn’t quite enough.
If you add the article “a,” the meaning would change. “We have a little time” means that the speaker still has some time left. So, you can use “a little bit” in the positive sense. For example, you can say, “Hey, don’t buy more tea. I have a little bit, and it’ll be enough for dinner.”
If you want more practice with common articles, check out “‘A Usual’ or ‘An Usual’: Which Article Should You Use?”
When Can You Use “A Little Bit”?
Although we consider it a noun phrase, you can also use “a little bit” adverbially or as an adjective to describe something to some extent or that is or occurs “somewhat.”
“A little bit” works well with adverbs that describe how you are feeling. For instance, “I’m a little bit hungry” or “He became a little bit sore after his run.”
You can also use this phrase when an adverb describes a verb. Here is an example: “He got caught in a rainstorm, so he’s shivering a little bit.”
People sometimes use “a bit” for adjectives to imply a negative connotation or feeling. A good example of using “a little bit” like this would be, “Gabby talks too fast. She is a little bit hard to understand.”
In What Context Can You Use “A Little Bit”?
We use “A little bit” in the literal sense, so there are many contexts where it will fit.
For instance, you can use “a little bit” whenever you talk about an extremely elastic piece of time or want to convey a small amount of something.
“A bit” usually means a short time interval, such as less than an hour up to a few hours without context.
If you said “Okay, I will see you in a little bit” to someone you plan to see in a few minutes or an hour, the particular context and surrounding words help clarify the amount of time.
Here are a couple of other examples of how you can use the phrase to refer to a length of time:
- You told me you would get off your iPad in a little bit, and it’s already been an hour.
- Hurry up and pick a seat! The show is going to start in a little bit.
“A little bit more” means not much more than something or only slightly more than something. So, you could say something like, “Grapefruit is a little bit more bitter than I thought.”
Another example is “The neighbor’s dog has been a little bit calmer than usual.”
When Not to Use “A Little Bit”
Although it is acceptable to use “a little bit,” you should be careful not to use it in formal situations and contexts, specifically in writing.
For example, it’s unacceptable to use phrases like “A little bit” in formal writing, such as research papers and business letters. Thus, it’s best to replace the phrase in formal writing.
Alternatively, you could replace “a little bit” with the word “slightly,” like this:
Before: This house is a little bit bigger.
After: This house is slightly bigger.
Remember, you can also only use “a little bit” with uncountable nouns. For instance, the word “car” is a countable noun. So saying something like “I drove a little bit of the car” would not make sense.
In contrast, “water” is an uncountable noun, so there is no conflict with the phrase “a little bit.” This is because uncountable nouns don’t need an article. For example, it’s okay to say, “I drank a little bit of water” or “I drank a little bit more water today.”
What Can You Use Instead of “A Little Bit”?
If you don’t want to use the phrase or either of those words, you can use plenty of others. Those below are suitable for any sentence with an adjective.
- Kind of
- Sort of
- To some degree
- To some extent
You can also easily replace the phrase with the words or phrases below whenever you need to say “‘I’ll see you in a little bit” or “They will be here in a little bit.”
- in a flash
- in a minute
- in no time
- in a second
- in a trice
- in a while
- in a little while
It’s also okay to just use either “little” or “bit” instead of “a little bit.” However, you do want to be sure that the noun is uncountable.
For instance, “I want a little bit of sugar in my coffee this morning” means the same as “I want a little sugar in my coffee this morning.”
Using “A Little Bit” in a Full Sentence
Here are some example sentences with the phrase “a little bit.” Each uses the phrase properly to convey a specific meaning, whether it’s about quality, time, or feeling.
- Mom said she’ll be here in a little bit so we have time to finish cleaning up the dishes.
- I want a little bit more of that delicious cake, please.
- We all know her story is a little bit different from the actual story.
- She thought a lot of them were a little bit paranoid.
- It just so happens I can drive a little bit better with my sunglasses on.
- Dad said we have to take off a little bit and get going.
- I think her tone added a little bit of pressure.
- I was a little bit surprised that he was there so late.
Phrases and Idioms
Phrases and idioms both refer to a small group of words. However, these words work in different ways.
Phrases are more familiar, and they typically communicate a literal or concrete meaning — each word contributes to its meaning. For a common phrase involving a noun with a definite article, read “Is It Correct to Say, ‘The Day Before Yesterday’?”
In contrast, idioms are phrases that communicate a figurative meaning, and they are understandable only if the person is familiar with the culture and context.
The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines idioms as “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words” (source).
More simply, an idiom is a group of words with an established meaning that is not related to the individual meaning of the words. An example would be the phrase “raining cats and dogs.” The phrase does not actually mean cats and dogs are falling from the sky — it refers to heavy rain.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Overall, it’s always okay to put “little” and “bit” together only when you are not referring to their individual meanings.
Learning to use this phrase correctly, conveying a small amount or something that occurs to some extent, can be extremely helpful in casual conversations and other informal contexts.
There are quite a few circumstances where something occurs “a little bit.” But remember that it is a phrase, not a complete sentence or independent clause, so you must use it as part of a larger complete thought.