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What is the difference between big and large? I am trying to use one of these words but I'm skeptical which one is the right one.

The context I intend to use one of these words in is:

Small companies don't have big/large budgets.

So which one is the better choice?

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Please have a look at our blog post on Writing good "meaning" questions. Thank you. –  Andrew Leach Sep 18 '12 at 10:01
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closed as general reference by Andrew Leach, Carlo_R., MετάEd, StoneyB, Mahnax Sep 18 '12 at 23:02

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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The usage stats from the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) look as follows:

                       BNC      COCA      

big/large budget      10/9     98/22     
big/large budgets      3/3     25/16      

So on the east side of the pond, it's a tie, while on the west side, big is preferred.

(The numbers have been manually corrected to exclude — lots and lots of — occurences of large budget deficits/surpluses/cuts/increases, big budget crisis/fight/debate/gap/deal, etc.)

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I guess big boys, big shots and big deals become large boys, large shots and large deals when they cross the pond. And largess becomes bigess (pronounced "big-ass") going the other way. –  Robusto Sep 18 '12 at 18:16
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"Large" will always sound [fractionally] more formal than "big" so if in doubt, and you want to sound formal, I would suggest to use "large."

It can also be complicated by context. Recently I corrected "Make a big noise" (referring to the impact of PR events) to "Make a lot of noise."

Not a great improvement, I know, but I felt that "a big noise" simply sounds childish.

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I'm not aware of any difference in meaning. Often words that we call synonyms have subtle differences in connotation, but in this case, I'm hard pressed to think of any distinction. I don't know why we have both words in English. Use either one.

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Large Brother is watching you. A Big White Butterfly. The Large Bang. Though by and big, the two words are about as synonymous as words get. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 18 '12 at 15:45
    
Sure, we've come to expect one or the other in stock phrases, but that doesn't mean that they have different meanings. I presume "Big Brother" used "big" for the alliteration, etc. –  Jay Sep 18 '12 at 20:06
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It depends on the rest of the article. Both are acceptable. You may be using large/big to refer to the non-small companies, so you might want to keep the same phrase when discussing the size of the budgets.

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