a drop in the ocean


a drop in the ocean


a drop in the bucket
a drop in the sea
a drop in the river

Meaning | Synonyms

  • a very tiny part of something big
  • a very small amount compared to the amount needed or expected
  • unimportant or insignificant amount
  • a very small proportion of the whole

Example Sentences

  1. Her cry was only a single drop in the ocean compared to the billions of tears shed by mourners after the war.
  2. Microsoft is a big company, so $30 million isn’t that big of a drop in the bucket.
  3. A hundred thousand may seem a lot, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the millions that need to be spent.
  4. The federal government’s $500 million rescue package is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.
  5. I always try to give money to the charity, but sometimes I feel it is just a drop in the ocean.
  6. Our government’s sending thousand tons of food, but that’s just a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed.
  7. My letter of protest was just a drop in the ocean.
  8. I know twenty dollars is just a drop in the ocean, but if everyone gave that much it’d make a big difference.
  9. A few thousand pounds is a drop in the ocean when you think about the millions that will be spent on this project.
  10. We realize that what we are accomplishing is a drop in the ocean. But if this drop were not in the ocean, it would be missed. — Mother Teresa


Robert Hendrickson writes about the origin of the phrase in his dictionary The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, originally published in 1987:-

Another biblical phrase, meaning very little compared with the whole. It is from Isa. 40:15: “Behold, the nations are as a drop in the bucket, and are counted as small dust of the balance.”

The metaphor first appeared during the period of 1382 to 1395 in the middle English translation of the Bible by John Wycliffe in Isaiah ix, 15:

“Lo! Jentiles as a drope of a boket, and as moment of a balaunce ben holden.”

It is typically used in British English but may be used in other varieties of English too. ‘A drop in the bucket’ is the predecessor of “a drop in the ocean,” which means the same thing.

Share your opinions1 Opinion

In “Founding Myths, Stories That Hide out Patriotic past, Ray Raphael quotes George Washington saying to the Congress in September 1776 ‘The few who act upon the Principles of disinterestedness are, comparatively speaking, no more than a drop in the Ocean.’ citing Washington to John Hancock, September 24, 1776, in “The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript sources, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. (Washington, DC: United States Government printing Office, 1931-1944), 6:107-108.

‒ Fred L. Curry January 22, 2014

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