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


8 Answers 8


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.

  • And is there a difference of saying "number of reports is big" vs "number of reports is large"?
    – KIR
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 11:43
  • 4
    @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
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 12:50
  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 1:28
  • Doesn't "a large number of reports vs. a big report" defeat your own argument in the answer? Think again. :)
    – Kris
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 7:03
  • @kris a "large number" is a different phrase. You can still say large report/big report interchangeably
    – mgb
    Commented May 5, 2013 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

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


The Cambridge Dictionary defines big as "large" and large as "big." There is no difference in the implied size, which is relative to other quantities; large is simply larger than medium, and much larger than small. It is relative to the norm or expectation of the size of that item, or the size of the item being considered by the speaker/writer. Idiom often determines the usage. We don't say small, medium, and big; we say small, medium, and large. Large is rooted in Latin (though it does not have a strong Romance flavor); big (etymology uncertain) appears to be Germanic (Old English, Scandinavian). If you write a poem with the two words and speak it aloud, you can sense the difference in flavor. Though both are only one syllable, they have a different quality. The word big expresses some emotion (such as surprise), attitude, or reaction toward the large size: Big deal! Big girls don't cry. Bright lights, big city ("Look at all them big buildings!"); whereas large seems more objective. From the Cambridge Dictionary: She had a big pay rise. (I contend that this expresses a reaction to the large size.) We need a larger house. One could say We need a bigger house too, but the former sounds more formal, with no feeling added. We have a big family now, and we need a bigger house and more bathrooms! Big can more often refer to nonmaterial elements: I have big doubts. Large is more quantifiable in material terms: I come from a large family of ten siblings. In formal writing (such as a letter used to apply for a job) one would use large (unless big is the idiomatic choice); I worked for a large company, not a big company. There's not a great difference between these words in terms of dictionary definition, but most native speakers instinctively observe the nuanced distinctions.


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.

  • 1
    What are the differences between "big kid" and "large kid"? You only noted that there are differences.
    – MrHen
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 16:33
  • How about large situations, or big cases?
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 22:13

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


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

  • Can you substantiate that?
    – teylyn
    Commented May 5, 2013 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
    Commented May 5, 2013 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
    Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 21:56

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).

  • 1
    Over-simplistic; English is not well-behaved. A Google Ngram has more big problems than large problems. Commented Mar 23, 2013 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
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 6:59
  • 2
    A "big family" might be a fat family, but a "large family" might also be a fat family.
    – DCShannon
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 4:11
  • @DCShannon to say nothing of a Plus Size family.
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 22:14

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