30 Words for Small Amounts

By Mark Nichol

Words that refer to small amounts or objects are frequently associated with specific idioms or a certain connotation. Here are many of those words included in sample phrasings that suggest the sense in which they are often used.

1. Bit: “a bit of a problem”
2. Crumb: “a crumb of self-respect”
3. Dab: “a dab of whipped cream”
4. Dash: “a dash of pepper”
5. Fleck: “a fleck of dirt”
6. Glimmer: “a glimmer of hope”
7. Hint: “a hint of cinnamon”
8. Iota: “an iota of sense”
9. Jot: “a jot of truth”
10. Lick: “a lick of sense”
11. Modicum: “a modicum of talent”
12. Morsel: “a morsel of cheese”
13. Nugget: “a nugget of wisdom”
14. Pinch: “a pinch of salt”
15. Scrap: “a scrap of food”
16. Scruple: “a scruple of suspicion”
17. Shadow: “a shadow of a doubt”
18. Shred: “a shred of evidence”
19. Sliver: “a sliver of sunlight”
20. Smatter(ing): “a smattering of laughter”
21. Smidgen (or smidge): “a smidgen of salt”
22. Snippet: “a snippet of the conversation”
23. Spot: “a spot of rain”
24. Sprinkling: “a sprinkling of action”
25. Strain: “a strain of weakness”
26. Streak: “a streak of cruelty”
27. Tidbit: “a tidbit of information”
28. Touch: “a touch of humor”
29. Trace: “a trace of incense”
30. Whisper: “a whisper of autumn”

Some synonyms are seen only in negative connotations, such as “not worth a continental” (referring to the nearly worthless currency of the fledgling US government during the Revolutionary War) or “not worth peanuts.”

Similar expressions include “I don’t care a whit” or “I don’t give a rap” (or “fig” or “hoot” or any of several other words) or “diddly-squat” or “I don’t know bupkes.” (Each of the latter two usages has several variant spellings.)

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


4 Responses to “30 Words for Small Amounts”

  • thebluebird11

    Don’t forget ort! (although I can’t think of a particular phrase in which it’s used).
    I enjoyed seeing these words and playing around with mixing them up a bit, as in “a pinch of pepper” (much more alliterative), “a smattering of sense” (ditto), “a whisper of cinnamon,” etc. I mean, why not! 🙂

  • Roberta B.

    As implied in the follow-up paragraphs, “small” can take on 2 different meanings: (1) in size, volume, or amount – mostly examples 1 thru 30; and (2) in value, worth, or significance – more accurately than “negative” – as described in the concluding statements with reference to “bupkis,” or raunchier terms (e.g., diddly-squat, etc.).

    PS – How about “skosh” as in a skosh more room.

  • Sally

    There are also the words we remember from childhood – ‘wee,’ ‘teeny-weeny,’ ‘weensy/winc(e)y/ a wince .’

    And the humorous UK variant pronunciation of ‘little’ as ‘likkel’!

    Etymological note (in case anyone wonders) – ‘skosh’ < Japanese 'sukosi (pron. 'skoshi') = a little bit' is US military slang from the time of the initial US occupation (now 'protection'), reinforced in the Korean War.

  • Stephen Thorn

    A recent variant I’ve heard several times is “a tad bit,” as in “Move it a tad bit left.” It strikes me as repetitous so I don’t use it.

    A great list, Mark. As usual, your list is expansive and highly informative.

Leave a comment: