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Is the phrase "a high number of" considered correct? Or is it only correct to say "a large number of"?

Example:

Japan has a high number of active volcanoes.

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I consider it awkward in the context of "Japan has a high number of active volcanoes", but it's frequently used that way in biomedical articles. Saying "a large number of" or "many", in this case, is much better style, IMHO, but it's not ungrammatical.

Style is rarely judged as "correct" or "incorrect", except in contests for which a certain style has been prescribed and others have been proscribed. Writing style is usually judged on a sliding scale that runs from Godawful! (-100) to Sublime! (+100), depending upon one's taste. OTOH, style manuals may deal with this kind of structure: that's case by case.

I always change "a high number" to something more appropriate when the quantity or amount is what's important rather than the size of the number: Sometimes a great number?.

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    In principle, there's nothing really wrong with describing numbers as high or low, but I think it's more natural to speak of large/great or small numbers. – njd Apr 18 '13 at 11:36
  • @njd: That's just what I said: when the size of the number matters, then "high" and "low" are good, just as a high card (King) versus a low card (deuce). – user21497 Apr 18 '13 at 13:32
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I would suggest that using "high" or "low" might in this case suggest a relative quantity, whereas "large" or "small" might be more absolute.

So four volcanoes could be regarded as a high number of volcanoes because most other countries have fewer, but to describe four as a large number of volcanoes could sound awkward because objectively the reader would not think of four as a large number.

  • You might address your concern by adding relatively, meaning compared to other (countries). For example: That country has a relatively large number of volcanoes (for its size). Or to avoid large number: relatively many. – JJ for Transparency and Monica May 8 '18 at 13:45
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Neither are correct. Numbers are either great or small, not large or high. Amounts are large, and abstract concepts like elevation, or temperature can be high, but if you can count a quantity, it's great. So your answer is either:

  1. "Japan has a great number of volcanoes."
  2. "Japan has a great number of volcanoes that have spewed a large amount of lava, at very high temperatures."
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    Actually, large is significantly more common than great as an adjective for number. See this ngram. – JJ for Transparency and Monica May 8 '18 at 13:42
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    'correct' is not the best word to describe style choices. 'Preferred' or 'more suitable' are better. – Mitch May 8 '18 at 13:43
  • -1 No. This contradicts corpus data that shows that large is preferred, by far, over great in this context. – green_ideas Sep 19 '18 at 6:53

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