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As far as I knew, "ein wenig" is mostly used in written German (usually somewhat official language), and sometimes comes off as a bit old-fashioned when used in every-day speach. It at least appears that "ein bisschen" is prefferred by most younger Germans.

However, I was listening to a children's song recently, where "ein wenig" was used, where I would have put "ein bisschen"...So are there any subtleties I'm missing?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In order to find the differences in use cases for the two, we need to take a look at how they can be used.

Usage of:

bisschen

In combination with 'ein' to mark a small amount to mark a small amount of something. Here it is synonym to "wenig" and it's probably a matter of style which one you and your peers prefer to use.

Ich habe ein bisschen Geld. | Ich habe ein wenig Geld. = I have a small amount of money.

In combination with 'kein + substantive' to mark the fact there is nothing there of said substantive. Here 'wenig' can't be used.

Ich habe kein bisschen Geld. = I have no money at all.

In combination with "das ... substantive" to mark something as not really important. Aswell, 'wenig' can't be used here.

Das bisschen Geld nützt mir nichts. = That small sum of money is not helpful to me.

wenig

Other than 'bisschen' 'wenig is not only an indefinite pronoun, but can also be used as an adjective.

Das wenige Geld, das Onkel Karl verdiente, kaufte uns die wenigen Möbel, die wir besaßen.

So, if you need the comparative or superlative you can't use 'bisschen' but 'wenig'

Maybe, take a look at the wiktionary pages for bisschen and wenig for further examples and references.

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...This is the kind of answer only a good teacher could give :) –  Rody Oldenhuis May 19 at 18:18
1  
Gute Antwort. Ich würde im letzten Beispiel nicht "das Geld kaufte uns" sondern "mit dem Geld kauften wir" sagen. –  Robert May 19 at 18:21
    
Stimmt, wie das mit solchen Beispielen so ist, manchmal sind sie etwas an den Haaren herbeigezogen. Was der wenigen Zeit geschuldet ist, die mir zum Schreiben zur Verfügung stand. :) –  konkret May 19 at 18:24
    
While those two words are synonyms, "bisschen" is a tiny bit less than "wenig". However this difference is only relevant if you explicitly want to be precise about the exact amount. –  TwoThe May 20 at 10:11

"Ein wenig" is mostly used in written things or by people wanting to sound old fashioned. "Ein bisschen" is used by younger people and in colloquial language, but there is absolutely no difference.

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So it's just old then...can it for example be used by people who want to sound official/of higher class/etc.? –  Rody Oldenhuis May 19 at 18:05
    
Do you perhaps have a link to an etymology of the two terms? –  Rody Oldenhuis May 19 at 18:06
    
Links to the etymology of both terms (in german): de.wiktionary.org/wiki/wenig de.wiktionary.org/wiki/bisschen In both links there is a point called "Herkunft" where you can find the etymology. You can just change de.wiktionary.org to en.wiktionary.org but the english descriptions aren't as precise as the german one's. And you are right "ein wenig" is often used by people wanting to sound offical/of higer class/etc. –  Alex May 19 at 18:09
    
@RodyOldenhuis mh, actually one expects that you look for the etymology. Here: de.wiktionary.org/wiki/bisschen –  c.p. May 19 at 18:10
    
Allright, thanks for clearing my confusion :) –  Rody Oldenhuis May 19 at 18:11

"ein bischen / ein wenig" is the same as the english "a little / a bit" and can be interchanged accordingly. Same meaning.

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