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When referring to a list of number is largest or biggest correct? For example, I want to find the biggest number in an array. Or should it be the largest number. Finally, would either biggest or largest be correct in this context?


In this instance I am looking for a synonym for maximum in the context of an array.

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Both are OK. Also greatest. –  GEdgar Feb 14 at 21:28
Wolfram uses largest. Check out this search. –  Gnawme Feb 14 at 21:35
Largest, for sure. I suggest you ask this question on Math.SE, where you will find this confirmed. –  raxacoricofallapatorius Feb 15 at 4:34
Related/ Possible Duplicate english.stackexchange.com/q/24499/14666 –  Kris Feb 15 at 6:31

6 Answers 6

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Between largest and biggest, that is not considering possible other alternatives, one can say that

  • largest is formal
  • biggest is informal

One does not generally use biggest in formal mathematical text or for that matter, in any formal English text for the most part.

Then I found,
Rachel Wicaksono on BBC's Learning English

quantity words …
'large', more often than 'big', is used with the following quantity words: 'a large amount', 'on a large scale', 'a large number of', 'a large quantity of', 'a large proportion', 'to a large extent', 'a large percentage of', 'a large part of', 'a large volume' and 'a large area'

- Big vs Large vs Great
- Difference Between Big and Large

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Thank you for answering my question, and for the references. Perhaps I should I have mentioned that I was looking for a synonym for maximum in the context of numbers in an array. –  Guy Thomas Feb 15 at 11:38
No, when people say that a certain usage is informal, they mean that it isn't appropriate in formal writing. The words "big," "bigger," and "biggest" are appropriate in all writing, including mathematical writing. "Large" is Latinate, "big" Anglo-Saxon, and of course many people prefer Latinate words because they sound fancier. That doesn't mean you have to use a Latinate word when an Anglo-Saxon one would be just as good. –  Ben Crowell Feb 15 at 20:24
Guy Thomas, you still can do, if that's so. By the way, how does that change the question? What exactly are you looking for? Please edit the question. Include what you said in the title, in the body of the question as well, that's required. –  Kris Feb 16 at 6:33
@BenCrowell We are only concerned with the words' implication in and suitability to the context. I wasn't discriminating against Anglo-Saxon at all. That's an external point and should not have been raised here. (I still up voted your comment, for its inherent worth.) –  Kris Feb 16 at 6:37

In mathematics and computer science, we often use greatest in reference to the greater than relationship. When referring to a set or range, maximum or upper bound are also used. Biggest and largest are both acceptable for non-technical English, although in a mathematical context they may be confused with the greatest magnitude (absolute value).

There are corresponding antonyms: least, minimum, or lower bound for the smallest value in a set, based on the less than relationship.

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I am an engineer and often hear "largest" used referring to an array of numbers. Actually I think "greatest" is something that I never hear. –  RyeɃreḁd Feb 15 at 6:04
@RyeBread In arithmetic, GCF/GCD/HCF/HCD: greatest/highest common factor/divisor: the largest integer that divides without remainder into a set of integers. Once into Engineering, I almost forgot the basics. :) –  Kris Feb 15 at 13:54
-1 Bradd, I may have to disagree with the "greatest in reference to the greater than relationship" idea, which in fact is itself a funny one. If not in reference to the 'greater than' relationship, what else could it be? How is it different from largest? I would like to update myself if you can provide any useful references in this regard. –  Kris Feb 15 at 13:57
Yes greatest is used a lot - in grade school math. Don't think they deal with arrays. –  RyeɃreḁd Feb 15 at 17:44
As an example where "greater" wouldn't work, I'd say, "the real numbers are a bigger set than the reals." "Larger" would also be OK here, but not "greater." –  Ben Crowell Feb 15 at 20:40

Well I disagree with Brad. I feel like "largest" is used the most with highest right behind it. For instance if you look in stackoverflow and search for "How to find the X number in a mysql (or any other DB) table? The X would probably be largest or highest. Simple google search using a similar phrase will give you the same results - largest or highest.

And when speaking strictly about arrays, often maximum is used.

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You disagree, but you give one of the same suggestions I did? By the way, my name is spelled with two Ds. –  Bradd Szonye Feb 15 at 10:18

I am an engineer. 'Biggest number' is not incorrect, but never seen in engineering. Use 'largest' or 'highest'. Same for 'bigger'/'larger'/'higher'.

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Sounds very true. However, the question is, why? –  Kris Feb 16 at 6:29

A pure number is a kind of a number that has a dimensionless quantity and it does not have physical unit. This term can also be defined as an unreal number, which has the form a+bi, where a is equivalent to 0.

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In your context, I believe Bradd has it covered. We would use Highest and Lowest where I work (legal, nonscientific) .

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Please see the scope of the question: is largest or biggest correct? Highest is not an option, unless the OP edits the question to broaden the scope. –  Kris Feb 15 at 13:59
@Kris: If we always limit ourselves to options in the question, we will often be left with no good options (or at least miss better options). The point of this site is to be useful or helpful, and sometimes it's useful to mention options that the OP hadn't considered. –  John Y Feb 15 at 19:44

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