litter [transitive, usually passive, intransitive] to leave things in a place, making it look untidy

be littered with something The floor was littered with papers.

He was arrested for littering.

It seems that the dictionary suggests us to say

The floor is littered with candy wrappers.


He littered the floor with candy wrappers.

My question is that:

We can say "He left/scattered/dropped/threw candy wrappers all over the floor"

But why can't we say "He littered candy wrappers all over the floor"?

  • 2
    What has that poor boy done now? Sep 11, 2020 at 6:15
  • 1
    @MichaelHarvey, he has been doing a lot of crazy things
    – Tom
    Sep 11, 2020 at 6:46

1 Answer 1


Here's another dictionary definition:
American Heritage Dictionary "litter"

  1. To make untidy by discarding rubbish carelessly: Someone had littered the beach with food wrappers.
  2. To scatter about: littered towels all over the locker room.

That definition shows both uses, that is, with the scattered material as object, or with the dirtied space as object, so you can use either of your example sentences:

"He littered the floor with candy wrappers."
"He littered candy wrappers all over the floor.

There's a slightly stronger focus on the direct object, whichever it is.

  • Why many native speakers say "He littered candy wrappers all over the floor" is not valid. It's like you make the candy wrappers dirty when you "litter them".
    – Tom
    Sep 11, 2020 at 6:48
  • 3
    I would say that the meanings 'drop litter in a place' and 'make a place untidy by dropping litter' were much more common than 'drop something as litter', so much so that people are unsure whether the last one is valid. Sep 11, 2020 at 7:23

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