Chapter 1-5-5: Clarification of Confusing Adjectives

Grammar > Parts of Speech > Adjective > Confusing Adjectives

Second language learners often invert or confuse certain adjectives for other ones. This page touches upon these scenarios.

"Big" Versus "Large" Versus "Great"

Before discussing these three adjectives, it's important to know what concrete nouns and abstract nouns are. If you'd like to refresh your memory, use the search magnifying glass to learn more about those two types of nouns.

Next, it is important to know when these three adjectives can NOT be used: "big," "large," and "great" cannot be used to describe the quantity of uncountable concrete nouns. Many people say "a lot of" to get around this. For example, people cannot say, "I ate big sugar last night. I ate large sugar last night. I ate great sugar last night." Instead, people will say, "I ate a lot of sugar last night."

The adjectives "big" and "large" are used to describe concrete nouns. The adjective "great" is usually used to describe abstract nouns (with an exception that will be covered shortly).

"Large" is more formal than "big." So, if you're writing an essay or a cover letter for a resumé, you'll want to use "large."

"Large" is not used with abstract nouns.

"Big" can be used in informal situations with countable abstract nouns.

* If you choose to use the adjective "great" with a concrete noun, you should be aware that the word has nothing to do with size. In fact, it means "wonderful," "significant," or "important."

"Great" is usually used with abstract nouns to describe a large quantity or volume.

Examples of "Big," "Large," and "Great" in Use:

See if you understand why each adjective was chosen. Remember to consider formal versus information situations, and concrete versus abstract nouns.

  • I own a large house. It's a great house because the sun lights up the interior.

  • Yo Fred! Pass me over a big bottle of beer, would ya?

  • I have great respect for our new Prime Minister.

  • Dear Sir or Madam. I am writing to you today in regard to our large organization's use of your product.

  • I humbly submit that you have truly made a great mistake by undermining my client's solid reputation.

  • Ouch! You just made a big mistake, mister!

"Less" versus "Fewer" & "Little," "Least," "Many," "Several," and "Much"

Is this sentence correct: Less and less resources are available to humans due to overpopulation.

No. It should read: Fewer and fewer resources are available to humans due to overpopulation.

As noted by the Oxford Dictionary, "There are some words that should only be used with countable nouns and some that you should only use with uncountable nouns." Uncountable nouns are also known as noncount (mass) nouns. The most problematic adjectives are described here:

1-5-5: Clarification of Confusing Adjectives - "Less" versus "Fewer" & "Little," "Least," "Many," "Several," and "Much"

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