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Consider the following two boxes with the provided dimensions:

A:

  • 10 inches long
  • 10 inches wide
  • 10 inches tall

B:

  • 11 inches long
  • 12 inches wide
  • 13 inches tall

I wish to communicate the side differences between these two boxes. When comparing B to A, this is easy:

  • B is 1 inch longer than A
  • B is 2 inches wider than A
  • B is 3 inches taller than A

However, when comparing A to B, these are the words I've come up with:

  • A is 1 inch shorter than B
  • A is 2 inches narrower than B
  • A is 3 inches shorter than B

Specifically, the word "shorter" seems to be the best fit for comparing both the length and the height of the two objects. Is there another word that I could use instead of one of these instances? If not, what is the best way to disambiguate whether I mean length or height?

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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

To compare a cuboid in all three dimensions, you can use these three pairs

  • taller/shorter
  • wider/narrower
  • deeper/shallower

So you could write I prefer this closet for hanging clothes because, even though it is not as tall or as wide as the other, its greater depth gives each item more space.

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This is a good approach, though it does sound slightly odd to say something like "the Honda Accord is 10 inches deeper than the Honda Civic". Still, I think this is the best of the given options. –  Kyle Cronin Jun 2 '13 at 16:04
    
Another option is to break the pairs out as taller/shorter, wider/narrower, and thicker/thinner—especially if you're talking about something with a relatively small front-to-back dimension, such as a cell phone. –  Sven Yargs Jun 4 '13 at 3:07
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Items are often referred to with various dimensions: length, width, height and depth.

Shorter can apply to any of these, so the term is inherently ambiguous.

You can sometimes avoid the ambiguity by specifying a combination of dimensions (as Fortiter said) so that it becomes clear by process-of-elimination which dimension "shorter" refers to. But even that requires some mental parsing by the reader.

The only way I can think of to be absolutely unambiguous is to spell it out:

The length is 1" shorter...

The height is 1" shorter...

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You could use low as the opposite of tall to avoid ambiguity. Your last sentence would be:

A is 3 inches lower than B.

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To me "low" refers more to position than dimension, but it would help disambiguating as it exclusively refers to vertical position. –  Kyle Cronin Jun 2 '13 at 16:00
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I would just say "shorter in length" or "shorter in height", or perhaps "less in height" or "less in height", there isn't much wrong with saying "less high" or "less long" either.

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