I thought "a bit of" is generally used to show small amount of something, but does the phrase mean "a large amount of " occasionally?

If somebody says;
"That's a bit of an adjustment."
What does "a bid of" mean in the sentence?
Does it mean "a small amount of" adjustment, or "a large amount of" adjustment?

My Oxford dictonary says;

[C] bit of sth
- a small amount or piece of sth

[sing.] a bit (of sth)
- a large amount

Online Cambridge Dictionary says;

a bit of sth
- a slight but not serious amount or type of something:
Maria's put on a bit of weight, hasn't she?
It's a bit of a nuisance.
He's a bit of a prat.


I am becoming more and more confused.... ....by reading these dictionaries.......... Emotion: crying

Could you please explain the phrase for me?
Many thanks for your help in advance.
1 2 3
Hello Candy

Literally, 'a bit of' means 'a small amount of'.

However, 'a bit of' is often used in deliberate understatement, or to belittle the 'thing' in question, e.g.

1. Understatement

'We have a bit of a problem here' = 'we have a large problem here, but we don't want to appear too excited about it'.

2. Belittling

'He's a bit of a prat' = 'he's quite a big prat, but he is also slightly contemptible, and so not to be taken too seriously'.

You can only tell which meaning is intended by the context.

Hello MrPedantic,

Many thanks for your reply. Emotion: smile

Wow.... I think I have been misunderstanding and misusing this phrase....
....... "a bit of" sometimes mean "a small amount of" according to the context....!

This is a kind of problem I'm faced with all the time. Emotion: crying
One expression has a lot of meanings, and it's always difficult for me to find out which one is the exact meaning in the context.
To make matters worse, sometimes it has completely opposite meanings!
(such as "a bit of")

Here's the context...... I'd like to know what "a bit of" mean in this case.

"The...the thing that I've had to accept, which is quite dificult, is that I've gone from one of the lead performers in my peer group to being an average performer in terms of appraisals. So that's ... that's a bit of an adjustment.

Thanks for your help in advance.

Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
"A bit of" is a good example of an "antagonym", a term used to refer to words that contradict themselves. Check out the homepage of Julie Ellis, the person who coined "antagonym".


You're welcome, Candy!

If the phrase is more 'concrete' (e.g. 'a bit of cheese'), it's more likely to be literal ('a small amount').

If it's abstract ('a bit of a problem', 'a bit of a long way', 'a bit of a prat'), it's more likely to be 'understatement' (or an 'antagonym', to use Teacher Eric's very useful word).

But only 'more likely' in each case!

In your sentence, I would put 'bit of' in the category of 'understatement'. ('A bit of' is often used in contexts where the speaker wants to 'put a brave face on it'.)

Hello Teacher Eric,

Many thanks for the link. Emotion: big smile
Yes, I'll definitely enjoy it!! It looks very interesting.
I think the list of "antagonyms" will help me a lot to understand how those
words make differences......

By the way, the word "antagonym" is new to me.
I was able to find "antagonism" and "antagonize" in dictionaries, but I couldn't find "antagonym" !!!
Is it a grammartical term commonly used?
(I'm sorry, it's off from the topic...)

Thank you.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Hello MrPedantic,

Thank you very much for answering my question. Emotion: smile

If the expression is more concrete, it's more likely to be literal.
If it's abstract, it's more likely to be understatement.
But I have to be careful because it's only "more likely" in each case.....
Thanks again for the explanation. Emotion: wink It's easy for me to remember!

Regarding the example sentence in my previous post, there was a translation
in my mother tongue. There "a bit of" was simply translated to mean "a
huge amount of."
I became confused, then I checked the expression in my Oxford EE dictionary.
When I found "a bit of sth" can be used to mean "large amount of sth," I was very surprised!!
If there had been an extra explanation(such as understatement), I wouldn't have been confused like this....

So....maybe the speaker emphasized his/her comments "a little bit" by
understating her words?

Hello Candy

I think "antagonym" is a word recently coined by Charles Ellis, who is the author of the page MrP showed us.

[url="http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cellis/antagonym.html#derivation "]antagonym[/url]

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (published in 2014)
a word or phrase that has more than two meanings that contradict each other.
an·tag·o·nize verb, (Gk; to counteract) , -onym suffix (Gk; word, name).
American English since 1996

Hi Candy!

You're welcome! I certainly had a good time checking out the words. Even my Korean and Japanese students found the "antagonyms" very interesting. Their sole complaint is that English just got even more difficult and confusing. They're in a bit of a bind trying to make out the real meaning of sentences. Emotion: smile

For lack of an "official" word for it, Charles (or is it Julie?) Ellis came up with "antagonym". That was really brilliant of him. I couldn't think of a more appropriate term for words that contradict themselves. Now, if only the word got enough backing and acceptance from English scholars for it to be included in grammar books. Seems like it won't be too long now since the term is already in the 2004 Ed of the American Heritage Dictionary.

By the way, I believe your second sentence (...I'll definitely enjoy it!) would be more apt if you did away with the "will" and used the past of "enjoy". I hope you don't mind my pointing it out. Emotion: smile
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