As far as I know, the phrases "a little", "a little bit" and "a bit" can be used for meaning "for a short time". So, for meaning "Can I use your phone for a short time?", can I say these sentences?

"Can I use your phone a little?"

"Can I use your phone a bit?"

"Can I use your phone a little bit?"

Context: Let's say my phone ran out of power and I need to look at something on the internet using my friend's phone, or I need to make a call. Or let's say I went up to a random person on the street.

By the way the usage of "a bit" is more common in this kind of sentences in British English compared to American English. Am I right? This is what Oxford Dictionary also says.

  • a bit or a little bit are OK. "Can I use your phone for a little while?" would be better. – user3169 Jul 6 '18 at 5:36
  • If you want to impress, prefer May I borrow....... It harks back to the apocryphal answer given by a father to his son: * No doubt you can climb the tree but you may not.* – Ronald Sole Jul 6 '18 at 10:01
  • @user3169 Thanks. You said "a bit" or "a little bit" is OK. Is "a little" wrong? "A little" is also used for meaning the same thing to me. Also why would using "for a little while" be better? – Fire and Ice Jul 6 '18 at 11:21
  • @user3169 In this video, at 45:20, she says "I just want to tidy up your room a little." for example. youtube.com/watch?v=RLhlDpTiXa4 Also, you can look it up here: macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/a-little – Fire and Ice Jul 6 '18 at 11:39

Yes you can ask "Can I use your phone a little". The question would not imply that you need to place a single call. You either want to place several calls or you want to use the phone for some other purpose for longer than a single brief call. You want to borrow it for a "while". So here "a little" means for rather a long time, from the perspective of the owner of the phone.

If you wish to express the idea that you would like to use the phone for only a very short time—you intend to be parsimonious in its use—you would say briefly or for a moment instead of a little.

  • "For a moment" means "for a short time", and "a little" also means "for a short time". – Fire and Ice Jul 10 '18 at 17:32
  • @Fire and Ice: You have very little understanding of the subject, yet I think you believe you have a better understanding of the subject than a native speaker does. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 10 '18 at 17:35
  • Well, as a "native speaker", you told me that I couldn't say sentences like "What was your name?" which are sentences I heard native speakers say many times. And I showed proof to you. You still continued to claim that I was wrong. And right after you, other native speakers said to me that I was right. Even if you are actually a native English speaker, it doesn't mean you are always right. – Fire and Ice Jul 10 '18 at 17:43
  • @Fire and Ice: I don't believe you've understood much of what you've been told. Your summaries of what people have told you are always reductive and leave a lot of important information out. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 10 '18 at 17:44

I assume English-speakers would understand your intention, but I think it's better to say:

  • Can I borrow your phone?

Or even better:

  • May I borrow your phone?

"Borrow" holds in it the idea of obtaining something for a while.

You can include time length and reason for clarity:

  • May I borrow your phone for half an hour? Mine is out of power and I need to look up something on the internet.

"a bit" and "a little bit" are primarily mostly used for quantity rather than timespan. "a little" is commonly used for size, but can be used for timespan too.

  • You are a bit (a little, a little bit) late.
  • Can I play a little?
  • You will have to wait a little (a little bit, a bit) longer.
  • I am sorry but you are wrong. They are also used for meaning "for a short time". If you haven't heard native English speakers use them, you can look it up on any dictionary. – Fire and Ice Jul 6 '18 at 11:24
  • Another example: At 45:20, the video game character says "I just want to tidy up your room a little." youtube.com/watch?v=RLhlDpTiXa4 – Fire and Ice Jul 6 '18 at 11:35
  • @Fire and Ice: I am sorry, but you are wrong. SovereignSun's pointing out to you that you would be asking to use the phone for a while is perfectly on point. a little does not mean "briefly" in this context. It hurts a little means "low on the pain scale". But May I use this a little? means "for longer than a brief moment, for some while." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 6 '18 at 14:34
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    @SovereignSun: I'd have to disagree with you there. A momentary yet intense pain would not be said to hurt "a little" (except ironically). In the context of pain, "a little" refers to the intensity of the pain not the duration of the pain. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 7 '18 at 10:26

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