I think I saw some cases where the word 'little' is meant 'small'. How prevalent is this type of use and what guideline is there for this (if there is any)?

I saw a little crash of opinions at the meeting.
I saw a little crash of cars as I was coming to work.
Little always means small, but neither works in your sentence about a car accident. I don't understand your concern.
Noah Webster's disciples provide this information:



1. of limited size; of comparatively restricted dimensions; not big; little: a small box.

2. slender, thin, or narrow: a small waist.

3. not large as compared with others of the same kind: a small elephant.

4. (of letters) lower-case (def. 1).

5. not great in amount, degree, extent, duration, value, etc.: a small salary.

6. not great numerically: a small army.

7. of low numerical value; denoted by a low number.

8. having but little land, capital, power, influence, etc., or carrying on business or some activity on a limited scale: a small enterprise.

9. of minor importance, moment, weight, or consequence: a small problem.

10. humble, modest, or unpretentious: small circumstances.

11. characterized by or indicative of littleness of mind or character; mean-spirited; petty: a small, miserly man.

12. of little strength or force: a small effort.

13. (of sound or the voice) gentle; with little volume.

14. very young: when I was a small boy.

15. diluted; weak.
16. feel small, to be ashamed or mortified: Her unselfishness made me feel small.


17. in a small manner: They talked big but lived small.

18. into small pieces: Slice the cake small.

19. in low tones; softly.


20. something that is small: Do you prefer the small or the large?

21. a small or narrow part, as of the back.

22. those who are small: Democracy benefits the great and the small.

23. smalls, small goods or products.

24. smalls, Brit.

a. underclothes.

b. household linen, as napkins, pillowcases, etc.

25. smalls, Brit. Informal. the responsions at Oxford University.

26. smalls, Mining. coal, ore, gangue, etc., in fine particles.

Syn. 1. tiny. See little. 2. slight. 1, 3, 5. SMALLER, LESS indicate a diminution, or not so large a size or quantity in some respect. SMALLER, as applied to concrete objects, is used with reference to size: smaller apples. LESS is used of material in bulk, with reference to amount, and in cases where attributes such as value and degree are in question: A nickel is less than a dime (in value). A sergeant is less than a lieutenant (in rank). As an abstraction, amount may be either SMALLER or LESS, though SMALLER is usually used when the idea of size is suggested: a smaller opportunity. LESS is used when the idea of quantity is present: less courage. 9. trifling, petty, unimportant, minor, secondary, nugatory, inconsequential, paltry, insignificant. 11. small-minded, narrow-minded, mean, selfish, narrow. 12. feeble.

lit·tle adj., lit·tler or less or less·er, lit·tlest or least, adv., less, least, n.


1. small in size; not big; not large; tiny: a little desk in the corner of the room.

2. short in duration; not extensive; short; brief: a little while.

3. small in number: a little group of scientists.

4. small in amount or degree; not much: little hope.

5. of a certain amount; appreciable (usually prec. by a): We're having a little difficulty.

6. being such on a small scale: little farmers.

7. younger or youngest: He's my little brother.

8. not strong, forceful, or loud; weak: a little voice.

9. small in consideration, importance, position, affluence, etc.: little discomforts; tax reductions to help the little fellow.

10. mean, narrow, or illiberal: a little mind.

11. endearingly small or considered as such: Bless your little heart!

12. amusingly small or so considered: a funny little way of laughing.13. contemptibly small, petty, mean, etc., or so considered: filthy little political tricks.


14. not at all (used before a verb): He little knows what awaits him.

15. in only a small amount or degree; not much; slightly: a little known work of art; little better than a previous effort.16. seldom; rarely; infrequently: We see each other very little.


17. a small amount, quantity, or degree: They did little to make him comfortable. If you want some ice cream, there's a little in the refrigerator.

18. a short distance: It's down the road a little.

19. a short time: Stay here for a little.

20. in little, on a small scale; in miniature: a replica in little of Independence Hall.

21. little by little, by small degrees; gradually: The water level rose little by little.

22. make little of,

a. belittle: to make little of one's troubles.

b. to understand or interpret only slightly: Scholars made little of the newly discovered text.

23. not a little, to a great extent; very much; considerably: It tired me not a little to stand for three hours.

24. think little of, to treat casually; regard as trivial: They think little of driving 50 miles to see a movie.

Syn.1 –4. tiny, teeny, wee. LITTLE, DIMINUTIVE, MINUTE, SMALL refer to that which is not large or significant. LITTLE (the opposite of big) is very general, covering size, extent, number, quantity, amount, duration, or degree: a little boy; a little time. SMALL (the opposite of large and of great) can many times be used interchangeably with LITTLE, but is especially applied to what is limited or below the average in size: small oranges. DIMINUTIVE denotes (usually physical) size that is much less than the average or ordinary; it may suggest delicacy: the baby's diminutive fingers; diminutive in size but autocratic in manner. MINUTE suggests that which is so tiny it is difficult to discern, or that which implies attentiveness to the smallest details: a minute quantity; a minute exam.