If A is one time bigger than B, it is equal to 2B. So if A is three times bigger than B, it is equal to 4B. Yet I am seeing "two times bigger" to mean "twice as large" in more and more places.

Any insights?


To Google Ngrams!

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While we can't make a claim as to the specific intended meaning, we see that usage of "three times as big" has rapidly declined since the 1940s, while usage of "three times bigger" has simultaneously increased.

It is safe to say that "three times bigger" is acceptable (whatever its meaning), but it has not (yet) replaced "three times as big".

  • 1
    I think it's quite probable that people saying "a third larger" mean "four thirds as large", but when they say "three times larger" they mean "three times as large". Note that a third larger is decreasing in usage; if it disappears, "three times larger" won't be ambiguous. – Peter Shor Jan 13 '15 at 20:34
  • 'It is safe to say that "three times bigger" is acceptable (whatever its meaning)' is arguable. Many people are certainly happy to use it in the threefold rather than fourfold sense, but I wouldn't like to argue that that usage is considered 'acceptable' in a legal document. In maths, 'scale factors' and '%ge increases' are used to avoid confusion. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 13 '15 at 20:59
  • @EdwinAshworth I never meant to imply that "acceptable" means "legally acceptable". "Three times bigger" is not legally acceptable precisely because of that ambiguity. Many idioms are widely acceptable and contextually understandable, but you should never put them in a legal document because they carry ambiguity. – Nick2253 Jan 13 '15 at 22:02
  • I'm saying that 'is acceptable' needs qualifying. If it leads to a dangerous misdosing say, it would surely be reckoned 'unacceptable'. And remember Murphy's Law for communication —anything that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. I'd stick with 'is widely used'. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 13 '15 at 23:16
  • @EdwinAshworth I think "is acceptable" is already qualified. You are conflating "acceptable" with "rigorously defined". Using the term "a couple" to describe three or four objects is acceptable. But that doesn't mean it's consistent with a rigorous definition. I don't disagree with your application of Murphy's Law to communication; I just don't see how that changes the fact that "three times bigger" is widely used in communication, and therefore is acceptable to a large number of authors, speakers, bloggers, writers, and readers of these mediums. – Nick2253 Jan 14 '15 at 1:18

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