Friday, October 19, 2012

Minimal vs. Minimum: Making Small Talk


Jinny writes:
Hi Snarky! Here's one that has always bugged me, and today I finally snapped a picture. To my mind, minimum sounds weird and minimal sounds correct. Is that just my brain being weird? I'd love a ruling from Snarky ;-) Thanks!
There's nothing wrong with your brain. These words are commonly mixed up because they are extremely close in meaning. Yet there is a subtle difference.

Where does this street sign go wrong? It uses minimum when no designated 'least amount' exists.

  • minimal (adj.) - an extremely small amount; negligable; not worth worrying about. Mrs. Hodges announced the spelling-bee winners with minimal fanfare. Sarah added a minimal amount of sugar to her coffee. 
  • minimum (adj.) - the smallest amount possible or acceptable. He is paid the minimum wage. After her parents' divorce, the girl had minimum contact with her father. The building meets the minimum safety standards.

The intention of this street sign is to let motorists know that very little salt is used on the roads, but it's unlikely that the town of Lincoln has designated a 'least amount' of salt used.


Here are some examples of correct usage:

From The Seattle Times:
  • Minimal sole, but maximum results for runners
    This headline conveys that five-toed running shoes have extremely thin soles. The editor didn't use minimum because it's impossible to determine the very thinnest sole that can possibly be made.

From The Washington Post:
  • Sun shoots a fastball to Earth, but minimal impact expected

    This headline conveys that a burst from a sunspot was expected to cause extremely few problems for our power grid. The notion of a 'least possible' impact doesn't make sense here, so it would not make sense to use minimum


  1. How about this sentence? I will keep my advertising to a minimal or minimum? Please help.....

    1. I would suggest minimum in this case. Minimum can also be used as a noun (as in your example), but minimal can only be used as an adjective.

  2. Some words are commonly mixed up because they are extremely close in meaning. To check grammar online free your problem can be solved and you can have it.