Here are some examples I found in Izvestia:


... маленький по размеру гранатомет в мире ...

... the smallest grenade launcher in the world ...

... 25 руб. за маленький стаканчик ...

... 25 rubles for a small glass ...

Маленький город ...

The small town of ...


Сколько из этих 4,5% приходится на малый бизнес?

How much of that 4.5% is small business?

Малый (тундровый) лебедь обитает на ...

The small (tundra) swan lives in ...

С Международной космической станции 24 июня запустили малый спутник Red-Eye-3, принадлежащий Пентагону, сообщили в NASA.

The Pentagon's small satellite Red-Eye-3 was launched from the International Space Station on June 24, NASA reported.

How should I know when to use which, or does it matter?

Do these two words have any collocations and if so what are some of the more common ones? I can tell already that малый and бизнес are paired quite a bit. Using that as an example, is there a difference between:

маленкий бизнес


малый бизнес

other than the fact that малый бизнес appears to be more common?

  • Russian wiktionary has a good article on малый.
    – DK.
    Nov 1, 2020 at 7:22
  • 1
    "... маленький по размеру гранатомет в мире ..." - this is taken from context. Маленький means small, not smallest, so possibly the word самый "the most" is missing.
    – Anixx
    Nov 20, 2020 at 0:51

3 Answers 3


Маленький is the default word for 'small'.

Малый is usually used in a sense of 'lesser' - that is to say when there are two or more instances of something. For example when it comes to business there is the big corporate stuff - большой бизнес and what is known in English as 'small business' - that would be "малый бизнес".

Маленький бизнес is also a legit term you could use, but it simply would imply a really small business (literally), rather than a general opposite of the 'big business'.

Another example would be Малая Медведица (Ursa Minor) as opposed to Большая Медведица (Ursa Major).

Малый is not used in a sense of lesser or smaller in a direct comparison. You don't say 'малое из двух зол', you say 'меньшее из двух зол'. It is also not used to literally describe the size of an object - that would be 'маленький' or 'небольшой'.

Малый is also a colloquial, if a bit old-fashioned way of saying 'fella' / 'lad', usually referring to kids, adolescents or very young men. Not used much these days, but you can still come across 'славный малый'.


In modern Russian, малый roughly corresponds to English "lesser", as in "lesser panda", "Lesser Antilles" etc.

It's used in some set expressions, like aforementioned малый бизнес, Малый Театр, малая родина etc., as a non-comparable classifier.

It's not a measure of quantity like in "little" or "small". It's one smaller thing or one class of smaller things out of two or several things or classes.

Another idiomatic usage is expressions like малой кровью, малой ценой, малыми усилиями etc., meaning "at a smaller expence or effort than was expected".

  • А если при работе гидроусилителя раздается «ворчание и бурчание», то тут уж малой кровью не обойтись.
  • Именно неспособность обновлённой сборной России добиваться побед малой кровью, за счёт строгости и дисциплины, считалась её ахиллесовой пятой.
  • Я буду только жалеть, что слишком малой ценой заплатил за твою любовь.

As a comparative adjective, you should use маленький.

In Church Slavonic and Old Russian, малый meant just "little" or "small" and was used as a comparative adjective, the same way маленький is used now.

It is used in this sense in modern Russian as well, but in archaic or mannered speech:

  • Поехали, оставляя позади малую хатку на заметённой улице и старую женщину в тёмном.
  • И включил свой славный ящичек на малую громкость.
  • А те им за малую благостыню на гербовых листах злостные кляузы строчат на ближних.

Note that the word маленький does not have a proper short form, and the form мал is used as a short form for either adjective.


Маленький = small

Малый = minor

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