There is a type of 'double adjective' expression in colloquial (mainly spoken) Indian English, which is a reflection of usage in many (Indian) subcontinental languages, example: "small small".

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For instance,

"... ... That was so much beautiful, I can't tell. There were big big mountains, and there were small small houses in the foothills of them. ... ...".

My guess is that this is merely used to express a plural form, as in (converted to Standard English). It's more like "a collection of big mountains".

"... ... That was so beautiful, I can't tell you how much. There were some big mountains, and there were many small houses in their foothills."

Am I right?

Other examples of doubling of adjectives as in 'small small':

The playground was full of little little children playing.

If you have any sense, you will listen to old old people!

Big big people will do big big things. Small small people shouldn't imitate them.

In short, what does this type of double adjective as used in colloquial Indian English really mean, and how would you express the same in standard English?

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    It's hard to say how to express it in standard English based on this explanation, because you seem to be uncertain about what it means in the first place!
    – herisson
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 5:19
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    BTW, what's a subcontinental language?
    – Xanne
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 6:20
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    @Xanne: From the tag, I'd infer from the (Indian) subcontinent.
    – MSalters
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 6:29
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    @ChrisH Another idiomatic, but quite recent, way of saying it would be “So beauty. Much mountain. Very wow. I can’t even.” Commented May 18, 2017 at 10:02
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    Examples I am finding in Indian media strongly suggest that the OP is correct that this phrase is about numerosity of small things, not magnitude of smallness. For example, the groom in this story does not mean that teeny tiny things went wrong with his wedding, but rather that many problems that should have been small arose.
    – 1006a
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 13:08

9 Answers 9


Reduplication is used in Indian English to indicate emphasis, distributive meaning, or indefiniteness

The sources I found indicate that reduplication of adjectives in Indian English can indicate various qualities: emphasis, distributive meaning, or indefiniteness.

This page I found shows that it's used in a distributive manner:

(5) Reduplication used for emphasis and to indicate a distributive meaning: I bought some small small things; Why you don't give them one one piece of cake?

– "Indian English", Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language

The first sentence would mean "a number of small things" and the second sentence would mean "give everyone a piece of the cake".

And this other page specifically says "small small" does not necessarily mean "very small":

Indian Pidgin English is an example of a variety that uses reduplication in a remarkable number of ways. [...] if you hear This house has small small room the meaning is not "a very small room" but "several small rooms". The reduplication expresses plurality.

Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, by David Crystal, on Google Books

Some more resources for further reference:

How to express this in other kinds of English

This kind of expression is often used in my language and I get where you're coming from (hopefully). In Turkish, this would emphasize plurality, meaning there are an increased number of small things rather than the same number of smaller things. Unfortunately, Standard English has nothing like what you're suggesting.

The closest you can get is the adjectives like "many" or "a number of". As in

There were a number of large mountains, and many small houses in the foothills.

or you can imply a plural form with "a range of" and by that way, you can use "a number of" for the houses without repeating yourself

There was a range of large mountains, and there were a number of small houses in the foothills.

If you want to imply distance between the houses or the mountains, you could change it to something like

There were a number of large mountains scattered around [the valley], and small houses were at their foothills.

There was a range of large mountains, and small houses were scattered around the foothills.

There was a range of large mountains, and there were a number of small houses, scattered around the foothills.

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    I don't think that "big big" refers to a larger number of big things. This might be specific to Turkish.
    – Ian
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 7:15
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    @ian_itor OP explicitly mentions emphasis of plurality as the meaning of the repetition.
    – Taemyr
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 10:28
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    Looking at examples of "small small" (and frequently "small-small") in Indian media, this looks like the only correct answer.
    – 1006a
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 12:58
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    Many Indian subcontinental languages (including Hindi/Urdu and South Indian languages) use double words like 'big big' and 'small small' to mean 'many' and not 'very.' This linguistic tradition is responsible for the frequent colloquial use of such expressions in Indian English. "I saw small small shops selling nice nice gifts." "Downtown is full of big big hotels where big big buses bring fat fat people!" It's not the fault of anybody who answered this Q, because you wouldn't be expected to be aware of such quirks, but this is the only correct answer and I ought to know because I am Indian! Commented May 23, 2017 at 10:46
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    @1006a I have raised a query in meta english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10264/… 'what's not clear in this question' -- since you have concurred with John Hamilton's correct answer which I just now confirmed in my above comment, please read my meta Q where I have pointed out how OP's question is clear enough -- if convinced, please consider to reopen. Commented May 23, 2017 at 11:15

In UK English, the nearest equivalent is to use two different words, both meaning small

  • Indian "small small" -> UK "tiny little" (to emphasise smallness) or "loads of little" (to emphasise large number)

  • Indian "big big" -> UK "great big"

  • "cold cold" -> UK "freezing cold"

  • "hot hot" -> UK "boiling hot" (for an environment), "scalding hot" (for a liquid) etc.

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    All but the first I've heard in common US English usage as well. (We'd use "teeny-tiny", perhaps, for small small. More often we'd just use an adjective like "very": very small, etc.) Commented May 18, 2017 at 14:44
  • @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas Or "itty-bitty", or "teensy-weensy" or "teeny-weeny" or "tee-ninesy" (sp?) or "little bitty"...
    – shoover
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 16:09
  • I'd go with "super-small", or even more informally, "crazy-small". But I would also state for the record that, while I wouldn't necessarily call it in "common" usage, I would certainly put "tiny little" as being in usage in American English. (As in, say, "oooh, look at the tiny little kittens! So cute!" Totally idiomatic American English.)
    – neminem
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 16:45
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    As the comments below the original post, and John Hamilton's answer indicate, the Indian English expression "small small" doesn't seem to mean "tiny little" and the Indian English expression "big big" doesn't seem to mean "great big". I like the "loads of little" part of this answer, but I think the rest of it is misleading.
    – herisson
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 17:00
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    Downvoted because after reading all the comments and answers here, and reading all the comments on the Meta post about this question, english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10264/…, I am convinced that this answer is not correct.
    – ab2
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 19:08

Repetition of a word in a sentence is right if it makes grammatical sense.

An immediate repetition of a word, separated by punctuation, is appropriate for emphatic effect, for example,

“I am far, far away from home.”

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    Also, "There's so much that we share / that it's time we're aware / it's a small, small world"
    – 1006a
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 13:10
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    Not forgetting "in a dark, dark town there was a dark, dark street" of Funnybones fame ;-)
    – Dan
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 12:09
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    The question is not about repetition in general. It is about how to express the meaning of a particular repetitive construction that is used in Indian English, but not in other forms of English. Since repetition doesn't seem to be used for this purpose in standard English, "big, big" would still be wrong.
    – herisson
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 16:44
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    Downvoted because I have become convinced that this answer is not correct. See my comment under the answer by Eureka.
    – ab2
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 19:10
  • @sumelic I don't see how this is any different from the usage in standard English of reduplication for emphasis. He has a big, big ego is perfectly standard English. The Indian usage is the same (except without a comma), no? If not, how does it differ?
    – user428517
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 18:09

In almost all Indian languages, repetition of adjectives is used to indicate that there are many such items available.

E.g.: There are small small houses in the village means there are many small houses in the village.


It's much like "thinking in one language and speaking it in another". Indian has quite similar words to Turkish and accordingly, what might be called "doubling" (for emphasis) in these kind of languages, does not exist in English.

That's why "big big" would be uncertain to the reader. Two words with similar or same meaning work much better. In this example, repetitive adjective doesn't emphasize scale of size; rather it emphasizes the quantity, which doesn't have to be plentiful or rare, of same-sized things. So "big big" doesn't mean "greater big"; but rather, it means "a number of big..", but not necessarily "so much of it".

Ultimately, this kind of expression in English would be achieved using two similar/close words. Like "great big" and "tiny little" as said.

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    The Turkic and Indian languages are unrelated, and it wouldn't make sense for Turkish to have influenced Indian English more than the Indian languages. Can you present any specific evidence that this duplication indicates plurality in Indian English? Commented May 25, 2017 at 13:32
  • A late response to @curiousdannii. It would seem that it is a fair critique that language families of Turkish and Indian are different. But having similar root is not the only way to influence one another. In fact, Indian culture is influenced from Turkish culture and language starting from year 900s. For quite a few hundred years, some Turkish states ruled over India. In fact until British rule started at mid 1800s. So actually Indians interacted with Turks very much longer than they did with Brits. Hence the language influence.
    – Turab
    Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 14:41

English has many adjectives and adverbs which are similar in meaning but differ in degree. In the present context, for example, "huge" or "enormous" would be used in place of "big big" and "tiny" or "miniscule" in place of "small small". We sometimes use "absolutely" with the more extreme words giving phrases like "absolutely enormous mountains" and even, less often, double up extreme words giving phrases like "tiny, tiny houses" but I can't think of a case where I would say "small small" because there are adjectives of greater degree which do the job better.

In relation to Javed Ahmed's answer "far" is doubled for emphasis in "far, far away" because there are no commonly used adjectives of higher degree for distance as there are for size, although we can use "very far" which is rather more prosaic and less expressive.

Repeated adjectives are more often used by and for children because the higher degree adjectives are part of an extended vocabulary and there are also informal adjectives and portmanteau words used in informal speech like "teeny tiny" and "ginormous" (from "gigantic" and "enormous") but the use of these would usually be humourous in intent and would certainly not be taken seriously by a listener or reader.

  • What evidence do you have that speakers of Indian English duplicate words to indicate intensity? Please edit your answer to add some. Commented May 25, 2017 at 13:33
  • @curiousdannii I'm not making any claims about the use of double adjectives in Indian languages and Indian dialects of English. I'm only suggesting a reason why 'standard' English (British, American, Australian, Candian and the other major variants) don't, usually, use double adjectives. The original post is unclear as to the meaning of double adjectives in Indian English, but the only use for double adjectives in 'standard' English is for emphasis as in "Far far away", this was the comparison I was making.
    – BoldBen
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 18:29
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    The original post was not as clear as it could have been, but it was never about the use of double adjectives in standard English. Commented May 26, 2017 at 22:41
  • @curiousdannii Now you've edited the original post to make the usage clear (which it was not when I first looked at it) I would suggest that the English equivalent is "lots of" + adjective as in "lots of big mountains and lots of small houses". The double adjective is only ever used in standard English to emphasise degree which is where the confusion has arisen in my mind and in the minds of other native standard English speakers.
    – BoldBen
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 4:11

This is also common in Mandarin. It means very big or very small. You can also use words that have the meaning of very big, such as gigantic or enormous. For very small, you could choose tiny or miniscule. Even more choices are at http://thesaurus.com I suggest avoiding multiple very or much or other modifiers. It can quickly make you sound childish, such as "very, very, very, very big".

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    Indian English is not related to Mandarin. If you have evidence that it does in fact mean the same thing, please edit your answer to add that evidence. Commented May 25, 2017 at 13:21

Look at those pretty pretty flowers!

I feel like this repetition is related to the language spoken by adults to children, in English anyway (when without the commas).

Yes, those repetitions like 'big big' are common in other languages like Chinese as well. It's usually used in a succession though, or it would sound 'queer'. For example (in Chinese): Look at those tall tall trees, those small small houses, those, those blue blue skies...". It is just a style of writing.

Like Javed Ahmed said, in English, if you have the comma in between, it sounds perfectly fine. "there were big, big mountains, and small, small, oh so small cottages..."

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    What evidence do you have that speakers of Indian English duplicate words to indicate intensity? Please edit your answer to add some. Commented May 25, 2017 at 13:34

I think words of more intense meaning would be a good translation. In this case, you are contrasting the scale of the mountains with the size of the houses. I would translate this as "Enormous mountains" and "really tiny houses".

But there isn't a single word or phrase that maps directly to "big big" or "small small".

  • What evidence do you have that speakers of Indian English duplicate words to indicate intensity? Please edit your answer to add some. Commented May 25, 2017 at 13:33