Are there any differences between the words "tall" and "high" ?

For instance, tall building and high building
I'm not sure what are the differences between them.

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  • I am sorry and don't mean to derogate the question, but the that was the first thing that came to my mind when read the topic only. My own example with "I am". "I'm high" and "I'm tall" - well there is a difference, not sure how to define it though. – luk32 Feb 17 '14 at 16:11
  • In this case, tall is a measurement of length, whereas high is a measurement of distance. Tall is describing the sum of all points in the height of the building from the ground to the roof. High is describing the single height value of the roof in terms of distance from the ground. An example of where you might need to use high instead of tall: If a primordial dwarf is floating 50 meters above the ground, I would say he is high above the ground, but I wouldn't say he is very tall, because the distance from his head to the ground is != to the distance from his head to his feet. – TylerH Feb 17 '14 at 16:51
  • 1
    When describing a person - high would signify some sort of drug induced reaction. – RyeɃreḁd Feb 20 '14 at 18:24

Tallness is the length of an object that it typically upright -- an absolute measure. Or it is a relative measure: comparison of such lengths.

Height is a distance "above" an origin position or surface.

Height applied to objects, in particular persons, can mean how tall they are: Tom's height is 6 ft 2 in. The height of the Eiffel Tower is _.

But in a context where the position of the person or other object is meant, that is, it is not being measured itself but its distance from something else is being measured, height refers to the distance of that position above some base (e.g. sea level -- altitude).

IOW, the meaning of height depends on the context: whether you are measuring a person's body or the distance of the person from something. By default (with no further context), the former is meant.

Although height has these two meanings, "high" does not. Tom's height is 6'2", but he is not 6'2" high.

"Tom is higher than Sue" means that Tom's location is above Sue's. Tom's height on the mountain is greater than Sue's; he has climbed to a greater height.

"Sue is taller than Tom" means that the length of her body is greater than the length of his: Sue's height (6'3") is greater than Tom's (6'2").

  • A tour guide once showed me a tiny little waterfall that was technically higher than Niagra Falls - because it was halfway up a mountain! – Landric Feb 17 '14 at 13:58
  • On the other hand, tall buildings and mountains are sometimes decribed as "high", with exactly the meaning that they are tall. But you'd never say "a high person" to mean "a tall person". – David Richerby Feb 17 '14 at 16:27
  • @DavidRicherby: Yes, sometimes the object is used as a shortcut to stand for its position. – Drew Feb 17 '14 at 17:12
  • @Landric: And Mauna Kea is the world's tallest mountain, but not its highest. Mount Everest is the highest mountain, wrt the position of its peak. – Drew Feb 17 '14 at 17:15
  • @Landric: FWIW, Niagara is not particularly high. It is impressive especially by its expanse and the volume of its water. There are other waterfalls in the Eastern US (including in NY State) that are tiny but taller. And of course there are much taller waterfalls west of the Mississippi. The tallest falls east of the Mississippi is less than 300 ft tall. Yosemite Falls in California is nearly ten times as tall. – Drew Feb 17 '14 at 17:18

"High is used for talking about things that are a long way from the ground, or about things whose top parts are a long way from the ground: a high shelfa high windowthe world's highest mountain

Tall is used about people or things that measure more than is usual from their bottom to their top, especially things that are more high than wide, like a person or a tree: a tall lamp-posta tall thin bottlethe tallest boy in the class

You always use tall when you describe the height of a person: My brother is taller than me."

Source: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/high


"Tall" generally refers to the height measured from the ground, and "high" to a point in the air. For instance: Tom is tall. The plane is flying high. You wouldn't generally call a building high.

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    "Tom is high" means that Tom has been using drugs. – Ben Crowell Feb 17 '14 at 4:34
  • REALLY?? oh.....ok..! – user66085 Feb 17 '14 at 4:38
  • There's probably something in the distinction you make, but certainly not enough to justify "You wouldn't generally call a building high". Things are moving in that direction, but there are still an awful lot of instances of a high building. – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '14 at 5:46
  • @Ben: You have a warped mind. Although Dick and Harry are low church, Tom is high. But they're all churchgoers - not the kind of Tom Dick or Harry who would do drugs. – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '14 at 5:49
  • @FumbleFingers Also, high mountains. – David Richerby Feb 17 '14 at 16:28

For chimneys, towers, skyscrapers, trees, people and anything else you can think whose height is purely vertical, and rises or grows high compared to others of its kind; native speakers will tend to prefer: tall. Its most common antonym is short.

  • The leaning tower of Pisa is only 55.86 meters tall
  • I am taller than my sister.
  • The giraffe is the tallest animal

For hills; buildings that are wide as well as tall; walls; women heels; and for objects above (without physical contact) the ground use high. Its antonym is often low.

Sometimes both adjectives can be used to describe the same object and are both fully acceptable.

  • The world's tallest tree is hiding somewhere in California. (...) It's 369 feet high
  • A tall/high tower. But perhaps when used unattributively (like your Pissa example) tall works better for towers. – Færd Aug 29 '16 at 9:19

We usually use 'high' for things that are wider than their vertical height, for example, high mountains or a high wall.

And we use 'tall' for things that are narrower than their vertical height, like people or trees and etc like eg: Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.

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