English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What's the proper way to say: a large family or a big family? What's the difference between them?

share|improve this question
Where's the homework? See FAQ english.stackexchange.com/faq Seems you are not new around here. – Kris May 5 '13 at 7:04
up vote 20 down vote accepted

Nothing really. In English you tend to get a lot of words that mean the same thing, sometimes there are historical or poetic reasons for choosing one word — but not in this case.

Other than big being a much more common word and large sounding more refined there aren't many areas where you would use one over the other for purely grammatical reasons.
Note that big can also mean "major or important" — so big decision, big spender.

share|improve this answer
And is there a difference of saying "number of reports is big" vs "number of reports is large"? – KIR Sep 14 '11 at 11:43
@KIR - large is more common when talking about a set of things,big when talking about a single thing. So "a large number of reports" vs "a big report" – mgb Sep 14 '11 at 12:50
Big predates large in Middle English: large came over from Norman French. Large is regarded as more formal than big, as are most English words coming from Norman French, because it was the royalty and upper classes that used these words the most while they entered the English language. – Taj Moore Nov 11 '11 at 1:28
Doesn't "a large number of reports vs. a big report" defeat your own argument in the answer? Think again. :) – Kris May 5 '13 at 7:03
@kris a "large number" is a different phrase. You can still say large report/big report interchangeably – mgb May 5 '13 at 7:44

Big and large overlap for sizes and numbers;


big can mean 'important'

  • a big family ~ an important family / a family with many members
  • a large family ~ a family with many members

  • a big event, an important event / an event with many people involved

  • a large event - an event with many people involved

big can mean 'grown up, old enough, mature'

  • a big boy - a grown up boy, old enough / a big-sized boy
  • a large boy - a big-sized boy
share|improve this answer

They are essentially the same in meaning but 'big' is more colloquial.

share|improve this answer

Many, not large, is the word for use with countable items. "There were many reports." In many situations, the difference between big and large are practically non existent. There are, however, many cases where there is an important difference between two expressions. i.e Big kid vs large kid.

share|improve this answer
What are the differences between "big kid" and "large kid"? You only noted that there are differences. – MrHen Nov 20 '13 at 16:33
How about large situations, or big cases? – no comprende Nov 24 '15 at 22:13

Wouldn't a big family be a family of fat people? I think of big as meaning large in volume or area, whereas large can be any dimension (large distances, large bills, large debts).

share|improve this answer
Over-simplistic; English is not well-behaved. A Google Ngram has more big problems than large problems. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 23 '13 at 10:24
@EdwinAshworth By the same over-simplistic logic, both big problems and large problems make sense, though they may mean different things. – Kris May 5 '13 at 6:59
A "big family" might be a fat family, but a "large family" might also be a fat family. – DCShannon May 27 '15 at 4:11
@DCShannon to say nothing of a Plus Size family. – no comprende Nov 24 '15 at 22:14

"Big" means some extent of subjectivity, and "large" has some meaning of objectivity.

share|improve this answer

Big is uncountable, large is countable. So, family is large.

share|improve this answer
Can you substantiate that? – teylyn May 5 '13 at 2:16
+1 I can see some substance in your argument. However, you must make a more detailed presentation with some supporting reference or by citing usage examples. This short sentence cannot stand on its own and be counted for an answer. Say, why do you think big countable while large is not? – Kris May 5 '13 at 7:01
@Ivana Petrovic I have never ever heard that explanation. I think what you meant was that neither large nor big can be used with uncountable nouns. For example, large / big traffic or large / big progress are both blatantly wrong. But in the case of OP's example, family, both these adjectives are correct. – Mari-Lou A Jun 3 '13 at 21:56

protected by MrHen Nov 20 '13 at 16:32

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.