Learn English – difference between “a tad,” “a bit,” “a little?” Why do you use “a tad?”


I came across the word “a tad” which is unfamiliar to me in today’s New York Times’ article, titled “Yankees Bracing for Cold in Opener and in April.”

The article starts with the following line:

“March is not going out quite as lamblike as the adage would have it, which makes the prospect of opening day in New York just a tad less idyllic than one might hope.”

(Aside: My initial interest was the adage of “March is not going out quite as lamblike,” which I could easily make out.)

I looked for another example of the use of “a tad” through Google and found the following sentence in www.dictionary30.com.

“March comes in like a lion, as they say, and goes out like a lamb, and here in the middle of the month I'm feeling a little lamblike and ‘a tad’ lion-ish. "You're a liberal, so you're probably scared of guns,'' I was told by an …”

I guess ‘a tad’ means ‘a bit’ or ‘a little’ or ‘slightly.’ However, what is good for using ‘a tad’ instead of using ‘a bit’ or ‘a little’ or ‘slightly’? Are there great differences between these three words? Is there any ‘added value’ in using ‘a tad’, in place of familiar ‘a bit’ and ‘a little’ and ‘slightly’?

Best Answer

One would use tad when one wanted to make the expression a bit more folksy than "bit" or "little" would come across. NOAD says this about the etymology:

ORIGIN late 19th cent. (denoting a small child): origin uncertain, perhaps from tadpole . The current usage dates from the 1940

If you were writing formally you would probably use one of the other expressions. But it is certainly fair game for sports or political diatribes.