Une petite enquête sur "petit(e)"

In this lesson, we'll take a look at some special uses of the elementary French word petit(e), which, as you probably already know, means "little," "small," or "short." Though it generally refers to something or someone of a small size, it can take on a variety of other related meanings. For example, since children are smaller than adults, petit(e) can also mean "little" as in "young": 


Mais tu voulais vivre de la musique? T'étais attachée à la musique?

But you wanted to make a living from music? You were attached to music?

Oui. -Ouais. -Depuis toute petite. Oui, oui.

Yes. -Yeah. -Since [I was] very little. Yes, yes.

Captions 24-25, Alsace 20 - Femmes d'exception: Christine Ott

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In fact, if you turn the adjective into a (usually plural) noun, you get an informal word for "children":


Les petits sont à l'école.
The kids [or "little ones"] are in school.


But if you address someone as mon petit or ma petite, you're affectionately calling them "my dear." (You could also say mon chéri/ma chérie.


Speaking of affectionate uses of petit(e), the words for "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are petit ami and petite amie (literally, "little friend"):


Et pour parler de ma première petite amie, l'une de mes premières petites amies est encore ma femme. Voilà.

And as for my first girlfriend, one of my first girlfriends is still my wife, so there.

Captions 24-25, Mario Canonge - Ses propos - Part 1

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Going back to petit(e) as in "young," the words for "granddaughter" and "grandson" are petite-fille ("little daughter") and petit-fils ("little son"). Note that these words are hyphenated, unlike petit ami/petite amie


Les parents de ma petite-fille sont morts dans un accident de voiture, et c'est moi qui l'élève.

The parents of my granddaughter died in a car accident, and I am the one raising her.


If you're only a little bit hungry, you might want to eat something with une petite cuillère (a teaspoon): 


Si vous avez une petite faim, je vous recommande de vous arrêter quelques minutes juste ici.

If you're feeling a little hungry, I recommend that you stop for a few minutes right here.

Captions 12-13, Voyage dans Paris - Autour de l'Hôtel de Ville

 Play Caption pour finir, des couverts comme une fourchette, un couteau, ou une petite cuillère.

...and finally, some cutlery like a fork, a knife, or a teaspoon.

Caption 34, Joanna - Son nouvel appartement

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You can also use the word to give a rough approximation of something: 


Il y a une petite dizaine de places...

There are barely ten seats or so...

Caption 25, Voyage dans Paris - Cité Florale

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The number of expressions with petit(e) is by no means small! Here are a few more, just to give you un petit goût (a little taste): 


avoir une petite mine (to look pale)
avoir une petite pensée pour quelqu'un (to be thinking of someone) 
une petite douceur (a little something sweet)
en petite tenue (in one's underwear, scantily clad)
chercher la petite bête (to nitpick) 
à petite dose (in small doses)
une petite nature (a weakling)
une petite foulée (a trot) 
une petite voix (a quiet voice)
petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid (every little bit helps; literally, "little by little the bird makes its nest")


If you'd like to like to do your own petite enquête (investigation), you can do a search for petit or petite to find even more examples in Yabla videos. 


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