Is the sentence

Little by little I began to have increasing doubts

grammatically correct? One reason I think it might not be is that if I google little by little I began to have increasing I don't come up with anything except my own quote.

  • Sounds fine to me....
    – jbelacqua
    Apr 1, 2011 at 3:44
  • Perhaps it would help if you explained what makes you think it isn't grammatically correct?
    – user1579
    Apr 1, 2011 at 3:56
  • It is fine, though personally I would have a comma after "Little by little".
    – Orbling
    Apr 1, 2011 at 4:33
  • Hmm, I'm not sure ... The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that it is in fact grammatically correct. But this certainly does appear to be recursive, and I'm getting a sense of deja vu :) Just kidding, it seems fine. Now one last conjecture, and I'm not sure why this is, but in my experience, English speakers from India tend to use the word 'doubt' very often. Am I right?
    – crowne
    Apr 1, 2011 at 6:28
  • Yes I noticed that too. There are lots of students from India at my college. Apr 1, 2011 at 8:06

5 Answers 5


It certainly is grammatical if we define the word as "Accepted by a large percentage of educated native speakers." But it comports with standard grammar anyway; it is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb.

The construction is common, as can be seen in, "One by one, the stragglers showed up." "Bit by bit, the truth emerged."

  • I feel like the comma is well-deserved as in our examples. Jan 25, 2012 at 20:51

Little by little I began to have increasing doubts.

The sentence seems grammatically OK to me other than the need for a comma after "little by little".

Semantically it doesn't make a lot of sense. There is redundancy or conflict in the three ideas

  • little by little
  • began
  • increasing.

It might be better to say

I began to have doubts. Little by little, they increased.


I'd say there could even be three semi-tautologies in that sentence:

  1. "Little by little"
  2. "Began to"
  3. "Increasing"

My first thought on whether it was grammatically incorrect however, was placement of comma. I'd put one after the second "little".


"Little by little" and "increasing" have similar connotations, so perhaps you're wondering if it's tautological?

  • If it is tautological, then it shouldn't be used, right? I sensed there was something wrong with this sentence, so maybe that's it. Apr 1, 2011 at 8:07
  • 3
    @Language hacker: Just because it's tautological doesn't necessarily mean it should not be used. We use tautology for emphasis, for rhetorical effect, or sometimes because that is the idiom. But it is as well to be aware of the tautology
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 1, 2011 at 11:01
  • @Colin @lang Exactly -- there are many reasons to use language, besides providing the most succinct and logical expression possible. Just as there are reasons to talk and to write which are not strictly about expressing particular ideas clearly. Language is part of social experience. And there are very different aims in different kinds of usage, e.g., writing lab reports versus writing poetry.
    – jbelacqua
    Apr 2, 2011 at 20:36

The problem is the common one of trying to speak in nouns. Why do you need to "have increasing doubts"? Increase is a verb so use it as such:

"little by little my doubts increased" or "little by little my doubts began to increase"

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