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.)

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