When people talk about things in the future like plans for instance, what is the difference between these 3? So let's say you were talking about smoking.

In the big picture, smoking will cause cancer. In the long run, smoking will cause cancer. In the long term, smoking will cause cancer.

Which one of these is ideal and is there a situation on which phrase is better to use among these?

  • Your premise is faulty in your example. Smoking will increase your odds of cancer. This means that statistically speaking if you look at the big picture smoking causes cancer when applied to a group. Individually, in the long run it's a crapshoot. In the long term, using tobacco does increase your odds of getting cancer.
    – Misneac
    Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 3:49
  • "Big picture" doesn't imply a long span of time.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 3:51
  • There is no ideal. Each of these means exactly what it says. Please consult a dictionary for the literal meanings of the words.
    – Drew
    Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 17:18

1 Answer 1


"Big picture" means ignoring the details or smaller points, and doesn't inherently refer to time. Also, it's generally used in the structure that "the big picture is something". It's kind of a forest vs. trees analogy.

  • Yeah, you may look cooler, and it's expensive, but the big picture is that you're going to get cancer.

"Long term" and "long run" both do refer to time, the latter being somewhat more informal, not that either strikes me as very formal.

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