I'm taking that great little red dress

(The scene: Carla is going on her business trip. And she’s telling her friend what clothes she’s planning to wear.)
Carla: For the evening, I’m taking that great “little” red dress. Remember it? It has a matching jacket.
Friend: That is a nice dress… but red for a business trip? I don’t think so. Do you have something else?

Question: What does “little” here mean? “little red” and “a little red” are different, right? But they are both red?

Thank you!

The red dress is little: it’s a little red dress.

The little red dress is also great, amazing, awesome…
Therefore, it’s a GREAT little red dress.

Does it now make sense?


that great little red dress.
that dress
that red dress.
that little red dress.
that great little red dress.

The adjective “little” does not directly modify the adjective “red”. It modifies “(red) dress”. The color is really red.

“In a Little Red Barn”
The color is red, and the size is little.
a barn
a red barn
a little red barn



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When two or more adjectives are used in English for the same noun, there is a specific order in which they should be used. Native speakers (myself included) don’t know what the rule is, but we know what sounds right and what doesn’t. “A great little red dress” is proper, but “A little great red dress” or “A red great little dress”, e.g., do not sound right.

I don’t know if there’s a lesson about this on Lingq since I’m not studying English here. But if you google “order of adjectives in English” you will find many pages which discuss this. Likewise on YouTube.

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It is written “little” and in this context it means short (and evening ware). The expression comes after the LBD, the Little Black Dress, an evening/cocktail dress short, elegant with a very simple cut that transcends time and I believe was coined after a Coco Chanel’s design

“All the five lovely little oval brilliant new purple Chinese wooden jewel boxes”
“A large round heavy old brown table”

Yo Watanuki and others, Royal English Grammar with Complete Examples of Usage.
pp. 269-270

Quantity, Value/opinion, Size, Temperature, Age, Shape, Colour, Origin, Material

They have a lovely old red post-box.
The playroom has six small round plastic tables.
I bought some charming Victorian silver ornaments at the flea market.
She is selling her flashy 3-year-old Italian car.
It was a beautiful cold day.

你好 Lily,
The adjective ‘little’ modifies the noun ‘dress’. So it’s a short dress, definitely not down to your knees and probably quite revealing.
Your English is excellent.

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"a lovely little old rectangular brown wooden German writing desk’ "

“we never say: ‘bad big wolf’. Who’s afraid of the ‘bad big wolf’? We say ‘big bad’ (wolf)”
" If you have similar words, but with altered vowels, then we say the words with the vowels in a particular order.

  • And the order is: ‘i’ followed by ‘a’, followed by ‘o’. So let me exemplify that. So I’ve just said ‘clip-clop’ and ‘jingle-jangle’ – that’s ‘i-o’ and ‘a’-‘o’. But it’s also ‘i-a-o’, so the bells in the church go: ‘ding- dang- dong’."

Adjectives in English (Shared by evgueny40)


It is hard to know exactly what the authors of that manual were trying to get across when they wrote the dialogue about “that great little red dress,” or whether they even gave much thought to ‘little’ or ‘great little.’

As some have surmised, it could be that the dress is short in length. Or it could be that she wears small or petite (extra-small) sizes, so the dress is small in size. She definitely thinks the dress is great (wonderful, fantastic).

However, it should be noted that although the English language does have diminutive forms (booklet, miniskirt, doggy, etc.), as well as numerous diminutives borrowed from other languages, the English language does not have what is known as a ‘productive’ diminutive form; that is, one that can be used with nearly any noun. Whereas in other languages, a ‘productive’ diminutive form is quite common.

For example, in Dutch the -je ending (or a variation thereof) can be added to just about any noun. A fantastic ‘little’ restaurant is ‘een fantastisch restaurantje.’ A nice ‘little’ drive (in a car, or ride on a bike, train ride, etc.) is ‘een gezellig ritje.’ A nice ‘little’ meal is ‘een lekker etentje.’

Oftentimes English speakers use the word ‘little’ in the same way: as a diminutive ‘term of endearment.’ It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with size or length (although it certainly can). ‘Little’ can just be a modifier to show that something is ‘endearing.’ (It should also be noted that it can also be used sarcastically to show that something is not so endearing.) It is most commonly used with another modifier: nice little, cute little, perfect little, tiny little, great little.

Example: (no sarcasm)

When we were in Vermont, my wife and I went for a fun little drive in the countryside. We stopped off and had a nice little meal at a great little restaurant. Then we came upon this wonderful little furniture store and there was this awesome little couch that I wanted so badly, but we couldn’t really afford to have it shipped. So we left there and then we found this fantastic little clothing outlet and while my wife was trying on a cute little outfit, I snuck over and bought one of those beautiful little decorative eggs that she loves so much.

Someone on Twitter wrote about a “great little red ale,” while someone else wrote about a “great little red wine.” In the attached photos, there is nothing little (small) about the size of the bottle of beer or wine. It could be that the red ale was made by a microbrewery or that the red wine was made by a small winemaker, but more than likely it’s just a diminutive ‘term of endearment’ for the wine or the beer, without any thought as to the size of the manufacturer. They definitely think it tastes great.

Other examples from Twitter:

A “great little red number” (the word ‘number’ here actually refers to an article of clothing, namely a dress). The model wearing the dress is tall and slim; the dress is neither particularly short nor small.

A “great little red hat.” Nothing especially small about the hat.

I think you get the idea.


Part two to your question.

So, the expression is ‘great little.’ It’s a red dress which she thinks looks great (wonderful) that she is taking with her on a business trip to wear in the evening after the company picnic. ‘Little’ is used with a modifier like ‘great’ as a diminutive to show that something is endearing: great little. “For the evening, I’m taking that great little red dress.”

‘A little red’ is completely different. If something is described as ‘a little red’ (not followed by a noun) that means it is a (little) bit red. It is slightly red. It has a slight red tint to it.

“The spot is a little red.” The place (on a person’s skin) is slightly inflamed.
“Your eyes are a little red.” Your eyes are bloodshot.
“You’re looking a little red there today.” You look sunburnt.
“Her face turned a little red.” She was embarrassed.
“She got a little red.” She got mad (angry).

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Thank you. You are being nice.