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When you intend to say someone has a strong desire to achieve something high or great, is it proper to say they have "high aspirations"? Or would it be "large aspirations", or something else?

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I don’t know what “large goals” means. How can a goal be large? –  tchrist Dec 26 '13 at 21:04
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If you are an English language learner rather than a native speaker or serious linguist, you might find our sister-site for English Language Learners to be a better fit for your questions than the current site, given that our charter here at ELU reads: “English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.” –  tchrist Dec 26 '13 at 21:17
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@tchri., I think you have a high aspiration in order to have this site for only native speakers or for only serious linguists, though. –  Xavier Hernández Balcázar Dec 26 '13 at 22:15
    
@ElberichSchneider Nothing great was ever achieved by aiming low, Xavier Vidal Hernández, not even by you. –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 1:17
    
@tchrist, a football (= soccer) goal is much larger than a handball goal—there you go, one large goal and one not-so-large goal. ;-) –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '13 at 12:09

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

High is indeed the collocation of choice here. Big or large don't sound idiomatic. Both the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC) confirm this.

                      COCA   BNC

high aspirations       40     3
great aspirations       7     0
big aspirations         4     0
large aspirations       0     0

The opposite, in fact, is low aspirations.

For the sake of completeness, here are the top 50 collocations from both corpora:

                COCA                              BNC

 1    POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS    124      POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS     21
 2    EDUCATIONAL ASPIRATIONS  120      SOCIAL ASPIRATIONS        12
 3    OCCUPATIONAL ASPIRATIONS  95      NATIONAL ASPIRATIONS       9
 4    NATIONAL ASPIRATIONS      59      NATIONALIST ASPIRATIONS    7
 5    HIGH ASPIRATIONS          40      LEGITIMATE ASPIRATIONS     5
 6    DEMOCRATIC ASPIRATIONS    39      PERSONAL ASPIRATIONS       5
 7    PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS  38      SEPARATIST ASPIRATIONS     5
 8    HIGHER ASPIRATIONS        31      COMMON ASPIRATIONS         4
 9    NATIONALIST ASPIRATIONS   28      HUMAN ASPIRATIONS          4
10    HUMAN ASPIRATIONS         26      HIGHER ASPIRATIONS         4
11    PROFESSIONAL ASPIRATIONS  26      PROFESSIONAL ASPIRATIONS   4
12    HIGHEST ASPIRATIONS       25      MIDDLE-CLASS ASPIRATIONS   3
13    PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS      22      INDIVIDUAL ASPIRATIONS     3
14    ACADEMIC ASPIRATIONS      21      HIGH ASPIRATIONS           3
15    FUTURE ASPIRATIONS        20      FUTURE ASPIRATIONS         3
16    PALESTINIAN ASPIRATIONS   19      CHANGING ASPIRATIONS       3
17    LEGITIMATE ASPIRATIONS    17      COMMERCIAL ASPIRATIONS     3
18    PERSONAL ASPIRATIONS      17      REVOLUTIONARY ASPIRATIONS  3
19    SOCIAL ASPIRATIONS        17      SPIRITUAL ASPIRATIONS      3
20    LOFTY ASPIRATIONS         15      VAGUE ASPIRATIONS          3
21    NUCLEAR ASPIRATIONS       14      ARTISTIC ASPIRATIONS       2
22    SIMILAR ASPIRATIONS       14      CONTEMPORARY ASPIRATIONS   2
23    ECONOMIC ASPIRATIONS      12      DEMOCRATIC ASPIRATIONS     2
24    LITERARY ASPIRATIONS      12      DANGEROUS ASPIRATIONS      2
25    SPIRITUAL ASPIRATIONS     11      EDUCATIONAL ASPIRATIONS    2
26    VOCATIONAL ASPIRATIONS    11      ECONOMIC ASPIRATIONS       2
27    CULTURAL ASPIRATIONS      10      FRENCH ASPIRATIONS         2
28    POPULAR ASPIRATIONS       10      HIGHEST ASPIRATIONS        2
29    IMPERIAL ASPIRATIONS       9      CREATIVE ASPIRATIONS       2
30    INTELLECTUAL ASPIRATIONS   9      IMPERIAL ASPIRATIONS       2
31    NEW ASPIRATIONS            9      JUST ASPIRATIONS           2
32    REGIONAL ASPIRATIONS       9      LOFTY ASPIRATIONS          2
33    UNIVERSAL ASPIRATIONS      9      LOCAL ASPIRATIONS          2
34    DIFFERENT ASPIRATIONS      8      MASS ASPIRATIONS           2
35    LOW ASPIRATIONS            8      MUSICAL ASPIRATIONS        2
36    GLOBAL ASPIRATIONS         7      MORAL ASPIRATIONS          2
37    GREAT ASPIRATIONS          7      GENERAL ASPIRATIONS        2
38    LOWER ASPIRATIONS          7      NEW ASPIRATIONS            2
39    MORAL ASPIRATIONS          7      POPULAR ASPIRATIONS        2
40    RELIGIOUS ASPIRATIONS      7      REAL ASPIRATIONS           2
41    UTOPIAN ASPIRATIONS        7      THWARTED ASPIRATIONS       2
42    DEEPEST ASPIRATIONS        6      UNIVERSAL ASPIRATIONS      2
43    COMMON ASPIRATIONS         6      NEO-STALINIST ASPIRATIONS  1
44    ARTISTIC ASPIRATIONS       6      NATURAL ASPIRATIONS        1
45    BLACK ASPIRATIONS          6      PAN-TURKISH ASPIRATIONS    1
46    GROWING ASPIRATIONS        6      PALESTINIAN ASPIRATIONS    1
47    INDIVIDUAL ASPIRATIONS     6      OVERALL ASPIRATIONS        1
48    MIDDLE-CLASS ASPIRATIONS   6      OVER-AMBITIOUS ASPIRATIONS 1
49    MUSICAL ASPIRATIONS        6      OTHER ASPIRATIONS          1
50    OTHER ASPIRATIONS [sic!]   6      ORIGINAL ASPIRATIONS       1

As you can see, most of these have to deal with kind rather than size. The ones that are of interest to you are, in this order, high, higher, highest, lofty, low, great, lower, deepest, growing for COCA, and higher, high, highest, lofty for BNC. So the verdict is pretty clear.

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I did a Google Ngram search for "*_ADJ aspirations" and the only one that rates according to your parameters is "high aspirations," followed by "highest aspirations," so it seems "high" is the right way to go. "Lofty" ends up on the list too.

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