adj., adv., n. (adj., adj. as sb., adv.)

Gaw lyt(t)el, Pe lyttel, Cl little, lyttel, Pat lyttel; Erk littele


(Modern English little)


The etymology of this word is complicated as the evident base of the various common Gmc adjectives meaning 'small' varies: long and short /i/ and /u/ occur, as well as /t/ next to /tt/. OE had lȳtel < *lūt- (with i-mutation caused by the suffix), cp OHG luzzi, luzzil, LG lütt , MDu luttel < *lu(t)t-. The OE variant lītel could reflect a base with /i:/, as is evidenced elsewhere, e.g. OIcel lítill, Go leitils. OED3 notes that ME forms can all be explained by shortening and unrounding of the original stem vowel, but finds it 'very likely that Middle English forms with long and short in the east midlands and the north were reinforced by reflexes of the latter base in early Scandinavian'. While plausible, this is impossible to demonstrate definitively, as this is also the expected outcome of OE /y:/ arising from i-mutation of WGmc /u:/ (Jordan-Crook §39.2).

PGmc Ancestor

*lūt- or *līt-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

lítill 'little'
(ONP lítill (adj.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far lítil, Icel lítill, Norw liten, Dan liden, Sw liten

OE Cognate

lȳtel, lītel

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Spellings in <i> occur (along with spellings in <u>) from late OE and early in place-names (MED, OED, EPNE) and are usual for the N, E and EM.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 30, 1183, 1250 etc.; Pe 172, 301, 387, etc.; Cl 215, 233, 451 etc.; Pat 59, 94, 256 etc.; Erk 160, 165


MED lī̆tel (adj.) , OED little (adj., pron., and n., and adv.) , HTOED , HTOED , de Vries lítill, Mag. lítill, Orel *lītilaz ~ *lūtilaz ~ *luttilaz, *luttiz ~ *luttjaz, Kroonen *lītila-, Heid leitila-, lūtila-, AEW lȳtel, EPNE lȳtel