For example, let's take the following sentence:

It wasn't a bad crash and little damage was done to my car.

It's a question from Cambridge test. I made a mistake here; I put "small damage." My guess is as follows: we should probably use "little" and not "small" because 'damage' is an uncountable noun. I did not realize it at first. But it's only an assumption. Am I right? And can we somehow substitute the adjective "little", e. g. can we say "slight damage"?

  • little is understood to mean "not much, not extensive" whereas small is an attribute of size. Damage has extent/degree but it does not have dimensionality. We can say "There was extensive damage" but we don't say "There was big damage". Dec 14, 2017 at 15:40

4 Answers 4


Yes, this is the common, uncountable, abstract sense of "damage". Since there is nothing that we can count, there is nothing to which we can assign individual sizes. There are no individuals to size. The large/small distinction simply doesn't make sense here.

Other distinctions do make sense. The much/little distinction represents degree in the same manner that large/small represents size. Severity can be represented by pairs like minor/major and gradations like slight/moderate/severe. There are, of course, many other polarities and spectra that make sense with uncountable abstracts, as do many absolute attributes.

Damage was done.

Much damage was done.
Little damage was done.

Major damage was done.
Minor damage was done.

Slight damage was done.
Moderate damage was done.
Severe damage was done.

Physical damage was done.
Emotional damage was done.
Legal damage was done.

Indescribable damage was done.


Like any language, English has quirks. One of those quirks is the word "little". It has several senses. For example:

  • much/little -- degree
  • big/little -- size
  • a lot of / a little of -- relative portion

We don't want to dismiss the word "little" simply because we've dismissed scales of size and portion.


It is true that "small" is not used with uncountable nouns. Even with countable nouns, you would use "few" instead if you want to say that there were not very many, because when "small" is used with plural nouns, it implies that all of the individual items in the group are small. For example, "small children" doesn't mean "not very many children," it means "a group of children who are all small."


The most important part is the lack of the article a


  1. It wasn't a bad crash; a little damage was done to my car.
  2. It wasn't a bad crash; little damage was done to my car.

The first means there was damage, the second almost no damage to the car.

When you use "small" in this case, you mean there was damage to the car and "only small" could be used to tell there was damage but not important. "little damage" is almost no damage at all.

The "little X" is an idiomatic expression.

There is little hope (almost no hope) vs there is a little hope (we are hopeful)


From how it sounds in my ear, one could say, "It wasn't a bad crash and only slight damage was done to my car.", whereas, "It wasn't a bad crash and slight damage was done to my car.", sounds strange.

One could also use minimal: It wasn't a bad crash and minimal damage was done to my car.

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