What is the difference between big and large? I am trying to use one of these words but I'm skeptical which one is the right one.

The context I intend to use one of these words in is:

Small companies don't have big/large budgets.

So which one is the better choice?

closed as general reference by Andrew Leach, user19148, MetaEd, StoneyB, user11550 Sep 18 '12 at 23:02

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The usage stats from the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) look as follows:

                       BNC      COCA      

big/large budget      10/9     98/22     
big/large budgets      3/3     25/16      

So on the east side of the pond, it's a tie, while on the west side, big is preferred.

(The numbers have been manually corrected to exclude — lots and lots of — occurences of large budget deficits/surpluses/cuts/increases, big budget crisis/fight/debate/gap/deal, etc.)

  • I guess big boys, big shots and big deals become large boys, large shots and large deals when they cross the pond. And largess becomes bigess (pronounced "big-ass") going the other way. – Robusto Sep 18 '12 at 18:16

"Large" will always sound [fractionally] more formal than "big" so if in doubt, and you want to sound formal, I would suggest to use "large."

It can also be complicated by context. Recently I corrected "Make a big noise" (referring to the impact of PR events) to "Make a lot of noise."

Not a great improvement, I know, but I felt that "a big noise" simply sounds childish.


I'm not aware of any difference in meaning. Often words that we call synonyms have subtle differences in connotation, but in this case, I'm hard pressed to think of any distinction. I don't know why we have both words in English. Use either one.

  • 1
    Large Brother is watching you. A Big White Butterfly. The Large Bang. Though by and big, the two words are about as synonymous as words get. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 18 '12 at 15:45
  • Sure, we've come to expect one or the other in stock phrases, but that doesn't mean that they have different meanings. I presume "Big Brother" used "big" for the alliteration, etc. – Jay Sep 18 '12 at 20:06

It depends on the rest of the article. Both are acceptable. You may be using large/big to refer to the non-small companies, so you might want to keep the same phrase when discussing the size of the budgets.

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