The difference between 少Shǎo vs 小xiǎo is an interesting one for HSK1 or HSK2 Mandarin Chinese language students. The Chinese Hanzi characters look alike and the meaning is also similar. Both these Chinese words can mean ‘little’, but the difference between 少Shǎo vs 小xiǎo can be summed up easily:
- 小xiǎo is used to describe the size of something very little (small).
- 少Shǎo is used to describe the quantity of something as little (few).
Examples of 小xiǎo (small) in Chinese
It can be used as an adverb or adjective:
- Xiàoguǒ bù xiǎo
- The effect isn’t small
- Xiǎo fángzi
- Small house
- Xiǎo xióngmāo
- Red panda (but the literal translation is ‘Little Panda’)
Usage of 少Shǎo (few) in Mandarin
In comparison as an adjective:
- Zhèlǐ de shù bǐ wǒ lǎojiā shǎo
- There are fewer trees here than in my hometown
In a sentence as an adverb:
- Wǒ zhǐyǒu hěn shǎo de qián
- I have only little money
The difference between 少Shǎo and 小xiǎo
Look at these two Chinese language sentences:
- 北京的外国人更少 (Běijīng de wàiguó rén gèng shǎo)
- 北京的外国人更小 (Běijīng de wàiguó rén gèng xiǎo)
Both these Chinese language sentences are technically correct, but the second one is highly weird. The first one would indicate Beijing doesn’t have a lot of foreigners (for instance, compared to Shanghai), while the second one says foreigners in Beijing are smaller (in terms of body height).
Here’s another example:
- 我的猫很小 (Wǒ de māo hěn xiǎo)
- 这边儿的猫很少 (Zhèbiānr de māo hěn shǎo)
The first one means ‘My cat is very small’, and the second one means ’There are few cats here’. Does this clarify this Chinese language point of the difference between 少 Shǎo vs 小 Xiǎo?