Is there a term to name this kind of usage:

"Big" is an adjective.

What I am thinking about is the adjective "big".

I am already quite annoyed by "big's" in your speech. You repeat it almost every 10 seconds.

as opposed to this common usage:

I saw a big house last night.

We will solve a big problem.

A big dog ran up to him suddenly.

1 Answer 1


I think that you're trying to show the difference between use and mention. In the first set of examples you are mentioning or quoting the word "big", while in the second set of examples you are using the word "big" in the usual sense.

  • @JSBangs: Thanks, but, as far as quoting is concerned, isn't it that the real quoting takes place only in the third example? In the first two I am not really quoting anybody's words. And also, speaking of mentioning, would it not also be a case of mentioning different things (mammals) in this sentence: "We've seen a lot of mammals today: tigers, lions, bears, cheetahs; and they were all very interesting."? Yet all the nouns in it are used in the usual sense.
    – brilliant
    Jan 15, 2011 at 4:32
  • @brilliant: Wikipedia explains more about the “use/mention distinction”, which I’d agree with @JSBangs is what you seem to be describing in the question. In your mammals example, It would seem more natural to me to say that you are mentioning lions, tigers, and bears, but you are using the words ‘lions’, ‘tigers’ and ‘bears’. But, more fundamentally, the use/mention distinction is a piece of technical terminology which doesn’t have always line up exactly with colloquial usage of ‘use’ and ‘mention’.
    – PLL
    Jan 15, 2011 at 5:09
  • @PLL: "Wikipedia explains more about the “use/mention distinction” - Pll, in that link that you provided I didn't find any further explanation on use/mention distinction. That page seems only to say that there is no such particular Wikipedia page on the topic.
    – brilliant
    Jan 15, 2011 at 5:31
  • @brilliant: oops, sorry — broken link, I must have typo’d. Try this instead. (Admittedly it’s not a great article, and doesn’t explain a whole lot more, but it’s something.)
    – PLL
    Jan 15, 2011 at 5:34
  • @PLL: Ah, I got it now. Am reading it at the moment. Thanks!
    – brilliant
    Jan 15, 2011 at 5:38

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