I am not sure if the following sentence is correct:

I do not like a small talk.

Should it be “a small talk” or “small talk”?

  • 2
    Welcome to EL&U. Either small talk or a small talk might be acceptable, but it is not clear whether you are referring to a talk (countable, meaning a lecture or discussion) or to talk (uncountable, meaning gossip or conversation). Small talk is an idiom using the latter, uncountable sense.
    – choster
    Jan 30 '19 at 20:07
  • 2
    Here small talk is an idiom
    – user334272
    Jan 30 '19 at 20:11
  • 3
    I'm flagging this as off-topic ("belongs on ELL"). Hi new user, you may not be aware that this EL&U site is for "linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts", whereas your question is probably more suited to our other site English Language Learners. If you have a question for ELL, be sure to read their guidance on what you can ask. :-) Jan 30 '19 at 21:13
  • It can be either. I depends on what you're trying to express. It's commonly used as an idiom without the article. But there's no reason why somebody couldn't use it in a different sense—with the article. Jan 31 '19 at 7:31

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:

small talk

: light or casual conversation


They made small talk while waiting for the meeting to start.

It is a compound noun with the idiomatic meaning and needs no article here.


I do not like small talk.

suggests that 'small talk' is the noun, that type of conversation that is used when you just met someone etc. about inconsequential topics.

I do not like a small talk.

allows the interpretation that 'small' is serving just as an adjective. As in

I do not like a talk which is small.

Which meaning are you intending to express?

  • 2
    Here Small talk is an idiom.
    – user334272
    Jan 30 '19 at 20:11
  • @user334272 No, that's just your assumption. The second interpretation is unlikely but still perfectly plausible. Jan 31 '19 at 7:30

The expression a small talk is not wrong, it is acceptable in the following cases

  “I need to have a word with you in private” is similar in meaning to
  “We need to have a small talk about [ __ ]” (a brief conversation)

Or when it refers to a presentation

   She gave a delightful small talk about Chippendale furniture

From Google Books

  • I went for a walk and then suddenly I saw my uncle and we had a small talk” said James.

  • We arrived after some of the people were gone; but some returned, and I gave them but a small talk, being very weary in walking down the mountains, and over rocks.

  • Just looked at him. Then he sat forward again, his fingers interlaced in front of him, and he smiled. “I think my cousin and I need to have a small talk.

  • I intended to keep my conversation with the mysterious non lotus-eater on a small talk level but either the context of what he said, or at least the way he expressed it, kept me consistently intrigued.

  • In one of my many dream I had, […] I was in my underwear, standing in front of a music stand and expected to give a small talk.

The noun–small talk–without the article, has a different meaning. This is a meaningless conversation that you generally have with strangers or acquaintances to help pass the time or overcome an embarrassing or prolonged period of silence. If they are someone you casually know, you might inquire about their work, their health, or their family. If they are complete strangers then you might talk about the weather or if they are familiar with the area/bar/club, e.g. Do you come here often?

Polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions. Oxford Dictionaries

  • ‘The awkward small talk is as communicatively insipid as the first time you asked someone out on a date.’
  • ‘On social occasions, small talk on neutral topics is appropriate and modest gifts are given.’
  • 1
    Interesting... I've found that "a small talk" is usually an informative presentation to a group - the private tête-à-tête is more often: "a little talk".
    – Oldbag
    Jan 31 '19 at 11:58

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