6 confusing words – small & little, big & large, tall & high

Hi again. I’m Adam. Welcome back to www.engvid.com.
Today’s lesson is a little bit tricky. The reason I say it’s tricky is because we’re
talking about specific words that are often interchangeable; that are often used in the
same situations or same meanings. We’re talking about “small” versus “little”, “big” versus
“large”, “tall” versus “high”. Some students asked: what’s the difference between them?
I’ll do my best to explain the difference between these words. First thing
and the most important thing that you need to remember about these words is
that yes, they are synonyms — means they have almost the same meaning. What makes the
difference in how to use them is always going to be context. Okay? A lot of the difference in
how to use these words depends on the context they are being used in. Some expressions take
this word or that word, and not the other, for example. In some situations, the meaning
is very different depending on which word you use. Okay? So we’re going to
start with “small” and “little”. Okay? The main thing to remember and in most
cases the biggest difference: when we talk about “small”, when we use “small”, we talk about
size, the size of something or its dimensions — dimensions are length, width, height, depth,
etcetera — or intensity. Okay? When we talk about the intensity of something. So first
of all, the thing to remember about this: we’re talking about physical size. When we
describe something as “small”, generally we mean physically small, something physical is small.
But again, sometimes we can use “little” to talk about the
physical size of something. So for example: somebody has small hands or
somebody has little hands. The nuance is a little bit different, and this is what you
have to be careful about, nuance. If somebody has small hands, it means generally physical
small but if somebody has little hands, it has more of the idea that he or she can do
less with their hands. True, not true – I don’t know; I’ll leave that up to you. But just
remember there’s a slight nuance in difference. But, if you look at somebody, say: “Oh, he
has such little hands.” Or if you say: “Oh, that person has such small hands.” Most people
will get the same idea. But again, context might tell you it’s a little bit different.
Okay. When I talk about intensity, again, usually something physical like somebody has a small voice.
If somebody has a small voice, sometimes it’s a little bit hard to hear them.
Did you hear that? Did you hear my small voice or do you hear my big voice now?
But we’ll get to that after. Usually, we use “little” with uncountables; money, time.
“I have a little money.” Not “small money”. Small money means like in Canada,
we have a dime, 10 cents, it’s a very small coin but that’s not what we’re talking about. “A
little money”, when we’re talking about quantity. So usually when you talk about uncountables
— things you can’t count and you’re not talking about physical size because it’s not something physical,
physical things you can count — uncountables, not physical things, you usually use “small”.
If we talk about someone’s stature… Now, what does “stature” mean? It means more or
less like how people view this person or this thing. So look at the example. For example:
if I say “A small man” versus “A little man”. A small man means usually physically small;
maybe short, maybe skinny, whatever. A little man is something… we don’t care about this person.
Right? He’s small, I can step on him because he’s not… doesn’t have stature.
A big man has a bit more stature. A large man is a large man, but we’ll
get to that in a second. When we talk about adjective of degree. When we want…
we use “little” almost like an adverb. So: “I’m a little tired.” Not small
tired, a little tired. Or if you say… and that means just a little bit. Right? Not a great amount.
But if I say: “I’m a little irritated.” I’m a little irritated means like
ugh, you know, somebody made me irritated. Again, context will usually tell you that
“little irritated” means very irritated. “Ugh, I’m a little irritated.” Means I’m pissed
off, to be honest, but we use “little” to make it softer. Okay? But, and
another thing, again this usually comes back to countables or uncountables.
When we’re talking about countables and we want to talk about the quantity, like how
much we have, we say: “We have a small amount of something” or “We have a small number of
somethings.” Again, you usually use amount with uncountables, you’ll use number with countables.
But for both, you can use: “A small amount”, “A small number of”. But you
would say “a little” with the uncountables. “I have a little time.”, “I have a small amount
of time to give you.”, “I have a small number of friends.” But here you won’t use “little”,
you will use “few” for the countables. “I have a few friends.” Okay? So again, if
you mix the two “small” or “little”, most people will understand the same thing
that you want them to understand. But if you want the detailed differences, this is basically it.
There are other small various degrees of difference; very, very nuanced. But again,
context will usually make that clear –which one you should use or which one, or why the
one that is being used is being used. Okay? It’s not as clear when we talk about “big”
and “large”. Let’s look at that now. Okay, so now we’re going to look at “big” and “large”.
This is a little bit more complicated because “big” and “large” are almost the same…
Have almost the same meaning. There’re not many situations where you can’t interchange them.
Okay? Some people think that “large” is a little bit more formal than “big” but
not necessarily. “Big” and “large” can both be used to talk about size and dimensions;
we mentioned dimensions before. But again, it’s all about context. Okay? Then again,
the nuances that come from the context will tell you which one you
should or shouldn’t use. So for example: if you talk about “the big
boss”, the big boss is basically like the CEO. Right? He’s the president, the top guy.
He’s going to be the big boss, he’s at the top, he’s the most. If you say: “The large
boss”, sounds a little bit strange if what you mean is CEO or president. If you say:
“The large boss”, I’m thinking the fat one. Okay? There’re two or three bosses; there’s
the CEO, there’s a president, there’s a COO, etcetera. You’re talking about the “large
boss” — I’m thinking about the big burly guy. Okay? So I wouldn’t really say “big boss”
if I mean heavy guy. I wouldn’t say “large boss” if I mean top guy. Now, let’s
look at this one. You’re talking about your brother. “My big brother” — what
does that mean? Generally, it means older, my older brother, my big brother. Okay? And
if you talk about your younger brother, “my little brother”. He’s not physically small, he’s younger.
Okay? So it’s the same idea. If you say: “my large brother”, again, you’re
talking about a big boy, bigger than you anyway — that’s why you think he’s large. And
again, here we go about with amount or number describing a quantity. I would say: “A
large number of people came to the party.”, “A large number of stars are in the sky.”
Whatever, it’s not a good example but it’s an example. I wouldn’t say: “A big number”
— it just sounds a little bit strange. It’s not very common to say: “a big number”. Again, not wrong.
If you say: “A big number of people came”, everybody will understand. It’s fine,
but not commonly heard. But if you talk about amount, again, more common: “a large amount
of whatever”, “a large amount of money was spent.” But you could say: “a big amount”.
Most people prefer to say “large”; it just sounds a little bit better for whatever reason.
Now, again, here you go: context. “Large business” versus “big business”. Okay? “Big business”
you’re talking about a big company or a big industry. Okay? “Large business” means you do,
it does a lot of traffic, a lot of trading, a lot of sales and incoming/outgoing revenues, etcetera.
So I can’t tell you exactly there’s a difference between “big” and “large”, it’s
about context: which one sounds better? Okay? You could say: “a big house”, you could say:
“a large house”, they will mean exactly the same thing. So basically, be careful about the context.
If it doesn’t feel right, change it to the other one but don’t worry about
using one or the other. And if you’re doing a test like TOEFL or IELTS, “big” and “large”
in the essay will get you the same points. “Large” is not a fancy word, it’s just another
way of saying “big”. Okay? So the best I can do for you with these two. “Small” and “little”,
they have some variations, “big” and “large”, not so much. Now, let’s take
a look at “tall” and “high”. Okay, so let’s look at our last one here:
“tall” and “high”. This one should be a little bit more straightforward. Okay? When we talk
about tall things, generally it’s, generally it’s always about physical things. Not always,
there are certain exceptions but mostly it’s about physical things. And if you want to
remember, think about things that are standing. Okay? So a person, like for example myself,
I am standing here and I am this tall. If somebody this tall is next to me, then I am tall.
If somebody is here, then I am short. But it doesn’t matter, by talking about a
person and then we’re talking about tall or not tall. We don’t say: “A person is high.”
If you say: “A person is high”, he’s probably doing something very different
than studying English. Anyway, if we talk about “high”, generally
speaking, we talk about above average, above others like it. Okay? So we’re talking about high ground.
Okay? So let’s say you have, this is sea level, this is called high ground;
it’s above the other ground around it, above sea level generally speaking. We also use
“high” to talk about ideas, things that are ideas; they’re not real, they’re not physical.
High cost, the high cost of living, a high price. We would never say “tall” about these
things because there’s nothing to compare them to. They’re just an
idea and they’re high. Okay? Position, for example: an official in government,
he’s a high official means he has a very high rank. Or we talk about high culture, people
who go to the opera and drink champagne and drive in limousines, they live in a slightly
higher lifestyle, higher culture, etc. Something when you’re reaching for a peak.
So for example: travelling — the reason you don’t want to travel in summer is because
it’s high season; prices are very high then. We don’t use “tall” for any
of these things. Okay? But, in some situations you can use either one.
If you describe something or someone… He, let’s say for example: “He is 6 feet high.”
It sounds a little strange. You would say: “He is 6 feet tall.” But if you’re talking
about like a wall or a door, “The door is 6 feet high, six feet
tall”, both are okay. Okay? Now, sometimes people mix these up. If we’re
talking about a building, some people say: “It’s a very tall building.” Like: the World
Trade Center is a very tall building. Some people say: “It’s a very high building.” Again,
depends which one you want to use. I, personally, would use “tall building” because a building is
standing, somebody built it, it is standing. If you’re talking about a mountain, I would
say: “It’s a high mountain.” You could say: “It’s a tall mountain.” But a mountain isn’t
standing, a mountain is sitting; it’s been there forever, it’s sitting there. Nobody
put it there, it’s not moving so I consider it sitting and therefore it’s high. It’s higher
than the ground or the other mountains around it. Okay? Again, context. Don’t
forget that. It’s always about context. Although the distinctions here
are a little bit more clear. “Big” and “large”, not so much; “small” and “little”, yes and
no; “tall” and “high”, more clear cut. Okay? But again, if you need more practice go to www.engvid.com.
There’s a quiz there you can try out. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to
my YouTube channel, and come back again and take some more lessons with us. Thank you.

88 thoughts on “6 confusing words – small & little, big & large, tall & high

  1. Dear Adam 1000000 subscribers! Do you know I was watching a video of yours while the counter was suddenly moving towards your fantastic goal! I wish you the best. A huge hug from Trentino. Alfonso

  2. There was somethings that I coudn't understand because english is not my first language, but I understood almost evrything, thanks dude.

  3. Thanks adam for these amazing lectures you are such a great teacher. could you please tell us that where we can use may/might and would/will and could/can….???

  4. Hi, Adam. You're really excellent. However this time I missed that you didn' mention ''great'', and the difference between "little" vs. "a little, and "few" vs. a "few". Perhaps in another video…

  5. Hi! sir the lesson was great as always.
    I've a question that what's difference between "little , a little and the little"?
    and one thing last u r the best teacher I've ever met.

  6. HI! Please let me know. In a description of a house: Its a small single floor house with a central door between two small windows. The Question: Can I use "little" instead "small" just for not repeat words or is a grammatical mistake?Thanks

  7. hey Adam, can you make me understand some of the English grammar rules and some english error exercises.

  8. Is it correct or not, when I say the power lines are high, while the poles connecting the lines are tall?

  9. hello sir i m not native speaker please make videos about all grammar rules and coul you make videos little longer i like ur teaching style ….

  10. These words have been confuesing me since i started learning English but now they are so clear.
    Thank you so much but i have an additional question whish is:
    When do we use ( few)? and when do we use (afew) ? For example what is the difference between (few people) and (afew people) it is a little bit tricky.

  11. Hey Adam! I'm a teacher and I always find new things to teach my students about. Thanks for your useful lessons.

  12. I am from Bangladesh,as english is not my mother tangue so it is not possible to realize your rapid lecture,so please deliver your speech in very simple and slowly

  13. Hi, Adam, I believe the only way to get all the benefits from your lessons is to get marry you😉😄 because it takes all life to know what you know, you're such an amazing teacher! Thank you for this clear, detailed, easy and interesting explanation 🌹🌹🌹👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

  14. Everything is on context…. English is a very funny language…… No rule….
    I am confused…. And didn't reach on conclusion of the words…

  15. Then I knew tall and high wrongly. I was told that tall has the shape if a column and could grow like a tall man, a tall building, a tall chimney. And high for flat things on the top like mountains, walls, a chair.

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