big, large, great and tall- high

1.We use big mostly in an informal style.

  • We’ve got a big new house.
  • Get your big feet off my flowers.
  • That’s a really big improvement.
  • You’re making a big mistake.

In a more formal style, we prefer large or great.

Large is used with concrete nouns (the names of things you can see, touch, etc).

Great is used with abstract nouns (the names of ideas etc).

  • It was a large house situated near the river.
  • I’m afraid my daughter has rather large feet
  • Her work showed a great improvement last year.

With uncountable nouns, only great is possible.

  • There was great confusion about the dates. (NOT . . . big confusion . . .)
  • I felt great excitement as the meeting came nearer.

2. Tall is used to talk about vertical height (from top to bottom). It is mostly used for people; sometimes for buildings and trees. 

  • ‘How tall are you?’ ‘One metre ninety-one.’

3.We also use great to mean ‘famous’ or ‘important’.

  • Do you think Napoleon was really a great man?
  • Newton was probably the greatest scientist who ever lived.

4.We sometimes use great to mean ‘wonderful’ (very informal).

  • I’ve had a great idea!
  • How’s the new job?’ ‘Great.’
  • It’s a great car.

5. Note that large is a ‘false friend’ for people who speak some European languages. It does not mean the same as wide.

  • The river is a hundred metres wide. (NOT . . . metres large)

6. tall and high

a We use tall for things which are this shape:

We can talk about tall people, trees, and sometimes buildings.

  • How tall are you9 (NOT How high are you?)
  • There are some beautiful tall trees at the end of our garden.

We do not use tall for things which are this shape, We use high.

  • Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe (NOT . . . the tallest mountain.)
  • It’s a very high room. (NOT . . . tall room.)

b We use high to say how far something is above the ground.

  • A child standing on a chair may be higher than his father, but not taller.

c Parts of the body are long, not tall.

  • She’s got beautiful long legs. (NOT tall legs.)

What- Which- How

I. What + noun (What colour … ? / What kind … ? etc.)

  • What colour is your car?
  • What colour are your eyes?
  • What size is this shirt? 
  • What make is your TV set?
  • What time is it?
  • What day is it today?
  • What kind of job do you want? (or What type of job … ? / What sort of job ..?)

What without a noun:

  • What‘s your favourite colour?
  • What do you want to do this evening?

II. Which + noun (things or people):

  • Which train did you catch – the 9.50 or the 10.30?
  • Which doctor did you see – Doctor Ellis, Doctor Gray or Doctor Hill?

We use which without a noun for things, not people:

  • Which is bigger – Canada or Australia?

We use who for people (without a noun):

  • Who is taller – Bill or Gerry? [not ‘Which is taller?’)

III. What or which?

We use which when we are thinking about a small number of possibilities (perhaps 2, 3 or 4):

  • We can go this way or that way. Which way shall we go?
  • There are four umbrellas here. Which is yours?

What is more general:

  • What is the capital of Argentina?
  • What sort of music do you like?


  • What colour are his eyes? (not ‘Which colour?’)
    Which colour
    do you prefer, pink or yellow?
  • What is the longest river in the world?
    is the longest river – the Mississippi, the Amazon or the Nile?

IV How … ?

  • ‘How was the party last night?’    ‘It was great.’
  • ‘How do you usually go to work?’    ‘By bus.’

You can use how + adjective/adverb (how tall / how old / how often etc.):

  • HOW tall are you?’   ‘I’m 1 metre 70.’
  • HOW big is the house?’   ‘Not very big.’
  • HOW old is your mother?’    ‘She’s 45.’
  • HOW far is it from here to the airport?’    ‘Five kilometres.’
  • HOW often do you use your car?’   ‘Every day.’
  • HOW long have they been married?’   ‘Ten years.’
  • HOW much was the meal?’    ‘Twenty pounds.’

hear and listen (to)

1. Hear is the ordinary word to say that something ‘comes to our ears’

  • Suddenly I heard a strange noise
  • Can you hear me?
  • Did you hear the Queen’s speech yesterday?

Hear is not used in progressive tenses. When we want to say that we hear something at the moment of speaking, we often use can hear.

  • I can hear somebody coming. (not I am hearing)

2. We use listen (to) to talk about concentrating, paying attention, trying to hear as well as possible.


  • I heard them talking in the next room, but I didn’t really listen to what they were saying.
  • Listen carefully please’ ‘Could you speak a bit louder? I can’t hear you very well’

We use listen when there is no object, and listen to before an object.


  • Listen! (Not Listen to)
  • Listen to me! (Not Listen me)

how and what…like?

1. We use how to ask about things that change – for example people’s mood and health.
We use what… like to ask about things that do not change – for example, people’s appearance and character. Compare:

  • How‘s Ron? He’s very well.
  • What‘s Ron like. He’s tall and dark, and a bit shy.
  • How does he look?. Surprised.
  • What does he look like. Nice

2. We often use how to ask about people’s reactions to their experiences

  • How was the film? Great.
  • How‘s your steak?
  • How‘s the new job?

3. Don’t confuse the preposition like (in What… like?) with the verb like.


  • What is she like? Lovely
  • What does she like? Dancing and fast cars

List H

hiccough or hiccup? Both words are pronounced ‘hiccup’ and
either spelling can be used. The second
spelling (hiccup) is more usual.
high-tech or hi-tec? Both spellings are correct for the adjective
derived from high technology:
A HI-TEC factory
A HIGH-TECH computer system
Without the hyphen, each word can be
used as a noun replacing ‘high
A generation familiar with HIGH TECH
The latest development in HI TEC
historic or historical? HISTORIC means famous in history,
memorable, or likely to go down in
recorded history:
a HISTORIC meeting
HISTORICAL means existing in the past
or representing something that could have
happened in the past:
Note It would not be wrong to say or
write an historic meeting, an historical
novel, an historical fact. However, this
usage of an before words like hotel,
historic and historical is becoming much
less common, now that the h beginning
these words is usually voiced.
human or humane? HUMAN beings are naturally competitive.
There must be a more HUMANE way of
slaughtering animals.
hyper- or hypo-? The prefix ‘hyper’ comes from a Greek
word meaning ‘over’, ‘beyond’. Hence we
have words like these:
hyperactive (= abnormally active)
hypermarket (= a very large self-service
hypersensitive (= unusually sensitive)
The prefix ‘hypo’ comes from a Greek
word meaning ‘under’. Hence we have
words like these:
hypochondria (the melancholy associated
with obsession with one’s health was
originally believed to originate in the
organs beneath the ribs)
hypodermic (= under the skin)