English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What are the correct adjectives to use when talking about amounts of time (when one needs to quantify an amount of time)? In particular, which one of the two:

little / small big / large

For example: the airplane had a _ _ _ delay.

share|improve this question
up vote 2 down vote accepted

A better sentence would be:

The flight had a long delay.

rather than

The flight had a big delay.

We usually measure time in lengths, so long and short are normal for this kind of sentence.

OTOH, native speakers will say things like:

There was a big delay on the Brooklyn Bridge today because of a serious accident.

share|improve this answer
The Time is Motion Metaphor theme. See also a short flight, a long way ahead, put it behind you, etc. Details at umich.edu/~jlawler/April05Eye.pdf and umich.edu/~jlawler/Metaphors.pdf. – John Lawler Mar 27 '13 at 14:38

How about I haven't spent much time on this answer?

share|improve this answer
If you have a new question, please ask it by clicking the Ask Question button. Include a link to this question if it helps provide context. – aedia λ Mar 27 '13 at 21:27
It's not a new question; rather it's an answer--albeit perhaps a somewhat puckish one--phrased as a question. If others here seem as insensible of this as @aedia λ, perhaps I'll recast it. – Animadversor Mar 27 '13 at 21:46
So are you suggesting the OP should use "The airplane had a much time delay?" Or "the airplane had a much delay"? Something else? And how does that help choose between little and small, big and large? Puckish answers are fine, as long as they actually are answers. As it stands, this answers the question at hand about as well as it does any other. – RegDwigнt Mar 28 '13 at 0:23

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.