What does “drop in the ocean” mean?

Learn about the origins and usage of the idiom 'a drop in the ocean' and how it relates to the idiom 'a drop in the bucket'. Discover examples and synonyms.

Understanding Idioms

Idioms are phrases or expressions that have a figurative meaning that is different from the literal meaning of the words.

They are often used in everyday conversation and can be difficult for non-native speakers to understand.

One such idiom is “a drop in the ocean”.

Origins of ‘A Drop in the Ocean’

The origins of the idiom “a drop in the ocean” are unclear.

However, it is believed to have originated from the Dutch phrase “een druppel op een gloeiende plaat” which translates to “a drop on a glowing plate”.

Comparison to ‘Drop in the Bucket’

The idiom “a drop in the ocean” is similar in meaning to the idiom “a drop in the bucket”.

Both idioms are used to describe something that is small or insignificant compared to something much larger.

However, “a drop in the ocean” is more commonly used in British English, while “a drop in the bucket” is more commonly used in American English.

Is “On Cloud Nine” Similar to “Drop in the Ocean” in Terms of Meaning?

Some may argue that the meaning of cloud nine and a drop in the ocean are similar.

Both express feelings of euphoria or insignificance.

However, the former signifies extreme happiness, while the latter conveys a sense of minimal impact.

Ultimately, the two phrases differ in their emotional connotations.

Usage in British English

In British English, “a drop in the ocean” is often used to describe a small or insignificant contribution to a larger cause.

For example, “The £10 donation was appreciated, but it was just a drop in the ocean compared to the £10,000 needed to fund the project.”

Examples

  • “The amount of money raised was a drop in the ocean compared to what was needed to rebuild the school.” [1]
  • “The company’s profits were a drop in the ocean compared to its overall revenue.” [2]
  • “The extra staff member was a drop in the ocean compared to the number needed to manage the busy restaurant.” [3]

Synonyms

  • A small part of a larger whole
  • A drop in the bucket
  • A tiny fraction of something