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Which of the following statements is correct?

a) 7 is the smallest and 9 is the greatest number

or

b) 7 is the smallest and 9 is the largest number

The research so far indicates that both terms largest and greatest are used in educational material. Largest implies size, but greater implies value, so greater seems more appropriate when dealing with abstract concepts. I am interested in why one may be more appropriate than the other when dealing with young learners, keeping in mind common misconceptions that children can make.

closed as off-topic by Centaurus, Chenmunka, Robusto, Edwin Ashworth, Dan Bron May 28 '15 at 21:06

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  • Neither. You should use a comparative, not a superlative. – Chenmunka May 27 '15 at 14:49
  • @Chenmunka You're assuming that the context does not include other numbers. – Matthew Read May 27 '15 at 14:55
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    The sentences as given only contain two numbers. – Chenmunka May 27 '15 at 14:59
  • There is more than one way to skin a cat. The number of ways in which a cat can be skinned is greater than one, bigger than two, higher than three, and larger than four. – RegDwigнt May 27 '15 at 16:25
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In everyday usage, both "larger" or "greater" would be OK. I personally prefer "greater", since that leave less room for interpretation. If I have -1,000,000 compared to 2, the -1,000,000 is "larger number" in that it takes more physical space to write it, but 2 is unambiguously the greater of the two. Also, this terminology makes inequalities easier, since > is usually pronounced "greater than", not "larger than".

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Both "greater" and "larger" are perfectly acceptable. They mean the same, and have roughly equal usage in Google NGram, which is a good indication (but not infallible).

However, as you are comparing two numbers you should use the comparative not the superlative. It should be "7 is the smaller and 9 is the greater (or larger) number".

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Have you searched these terms on a search engine?

Personally, I would say "largest number", but maybe both are OK.

Wikipedia has the page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Largest_number :

Largest number is mathematically meaningless (since in the usual system of integers, adding one to any number produces a larger number). However, the term may refer to:

  • Names of large numbers, for the largest numbers with names
  • Infinity, a concept which can be used as a largest number in some contexts
  • Graham's number, once claimed as the largest number ever used in a serious mathematical proof
  • Large numbers, for notations to exactly specify very large numbers
  • Largest known prime number, for the largest known number for which no integer divisors exist

and Google Ngram seems to say that both are equally used nowadays :

largest number,greatest number

  • One way to improve this answer would be to quote some of the relevant text. Sometimes those links die after a while, and the answer is rendered useless. – ebernard May 27 '15 at 15:35
  • @Waterbagel Is it better now? – hdl May 27 '15 at 16:14
  • yes! Also, I'm not the downvoter - I think it's a good, objective answer on a fairly opinion-based question. – ebernard May 27 '15 at 17:51

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