What Does Petty Mean? Petty Definition

You may have heard the adjective petty used in a few different ways. But the meaning of the word is essentially the same. So what does Petty mean?

Petty – refers to something of little or lesser importance. Sometimes it’s a word used to describe something that is perhaps not necessary.

Here are a few examples:

  • The shipping delay is a petty problem if the item has already been damaged.
  • He is a petty officer in the Navy. (Less Important than other Officers.)
  • The politicians are upset over their salary cuts; what a petty issue when the country is on the edge of bankruptcy.

Petty is also used to describe a person who focuses on the details of things that are not important, perhaps making a bigger issue out of small unimportant matters.

  • Jessica is very petty about her makeup, if one eyelash is out of line she runs to see a mirror.
  • Did you see how petty Mark became when they told us our pay was going to come one day late? He even threatened to quit!

Collocations of Petty

Petty Cash

A minor amount of money used for small unexpected business expenses.

Petty Theft / Crime

Crimes that are not overly serious, such as the theft of a telephone.

Petty Theif

The criminal who commits petty crimes.

Petty Officer

A low-ranking officer in a Navy.

Petty Argument

When people are arguing about something that doesn’t matter.

Petty as a Noun

When speaking about this quality, we add the suffix ness to form the noun pettiness.

  • They showed a lot of pettiness over the five-minute delay.
  • The pettiness of the passenger’s complaining that the man next to him had more space was ignored by the staff because all of the seats are the same size.

Using Petty in our Speech

Overall, pettiness is not considered to be a good thing. Calling someone petty to their face would usually be regarded as insulting, especially if the person is showing pettiness.

It is acceptable to use this word when not speaking about someone or something that could be understood as an insult.

Insulting:            Don’t be so petty about it.

Acceptable:        The delay is only a petty problem.

The next time you see this word, look at the sentence and try to decide what type of pettiness is meant. Is it about a person or a circumstance?

We hope our explanation is not too petty and easy to understand. If so, please leave us your comment below. We love to hear what you have to say. Since you’re here, take a look at the other articles on the website too.


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Written by: Katherine Davies