little by little

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adj. lit·tler or less (lĕs) also less·er (lĕs′ər), lit·tlest or least (lēst)
a. Small in size: a little dining room.
b. Small in quantity or extent: a little money; a little work on the side. See Synonyms at small.
2. Short in extent or duration; brief: There is little time left.
3. Unimportant; trivial: a little matter.
4. Narrow; petty: mean little comments; a little mind consumed with trivia.
5. Having scant power or influence; of minor status: just a little clerk in the records office.
a. Being at an early stage of growth; young: a little child.
b. Younger or youngest. Used especially of a sibling: My little brother is leaving for college next week.
adv. less or lesser, least
1. Not much; scarcely: works long hours, sleeping little.
2. Not in the least; not at all: They little expected such a generous gift.
1. A small quantity or amount: Give me a little.
2. Something much less than all: I know little of their history.
3. A short distance or time: a little down the road; waited a little.
a little
Somewhat; a bit: felt a little better.
little by little
By small degrees or increments; gradually.

[Middle English, from Old English lȳtel.]

lit′tle·ness n.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Adv.1.little by little - a little bit at a time; "the research structure has developed piecemeal"
2.little by little - by a short distance; "they moved it by inches"
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.
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(ˈlitl) adjective
1. small in size. He is only a little boy; when she was little (= a child).
2. small in amount; not much. He has little knowledge of the difficulties involved.
3. not important. I did not expect her to make a fuss about such a little thing.
(only) a small amount. He knows little of the real world.
1. not much. I go out little nowadays.
2. only to a small degree. a little-known fact.
3. not at all. He little knows how ill he is.
a little
1. a short time or distance. Move a little to the right!
2. a small quantity of something. He has a little money to spare; 'Is there any soup left?' `Yes, a little.'
3. slightly. She was a little frightened.
little by little
gradually. Little by little we began to get to know him.
make little of
1. to treat as unimportant etc. He made little of his injuries.
2. not to be able to understand. I could make little of his instructions.

little means `not much': You have little reason to boast .
a little means `some', `a small quantity': There's a little milk left .
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.
References in classic literature ?
I should hear it still rippling on with its gentle harpsichord tinkle, as I stretched myself down among the cool lavendered sheets, and little by little let slip the multifarious world.
26, you can think of me, and how I used to lie awake, listening to the stream rippling beneath the window, with its gentle harpsichord tinkle, and little by little letting slip the multifarious world.
Little by little he approached the conservatory--entered it, after a moment's reflection--detected the glimmer of a white dress in the distance, through the shrubs and flowers--advanced to get a nearer view of the lady--and burst into Clara's presence with a cry of delight.
The tribe, under the influence of an indescribable terror, disappeared little by little in the huts, and there was complete solitude around the stake.
Little by little, the bright fire seems to be fading.
Sinking under the hard stress laid on it, her mind had drifted little by little into a new train of thought.
You contemplate mentally your mischance, till little by little your mood changes, cold doubt steals into the very marrow of your bones, you see the inexplicable fact in another light.
At first he shivered all over, then the shivering ceased and little by little he began to lose consciousness.
Fire Eater at first remained hard and cold as a piece of ice; but then, little by little, he softened and began to sneeze.
Take the un- written law of wages: it says they've got to advance, little by little, straight through the centuries.
Little by little the scene on the quay became more animated; sailors of various nations, merchants, ship-brokers, porters, fellahs, bustled to and fro as if the steamer were immediately expected.
For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.