Today we dive into one of those bigger grammar posts that originally seem so simple. After all, larger, bigger, greater, and higher seem (and actually are) synonymous in some cases. But then, there are other cases when only one of the four terms will do.
Honestly, it's these types of differences that then make me go back through the whole thing and question everything. When I say a person is larger, does that mean the same thing as saying the person is bigger? Or greater? Or higher? It gets confusing fast.
So let's look at the difference between larger, bigger, greater, and higher, along with examples of correct usage!
Larger vs. Bigger vs. Greater vs. Higher
Larger tends to deal with size, both quantitatively and in physical dimensions. So you might refer to a larger man if you're talking about a guy who's six feet tall and 250 pounds, but you may also refer to a larger quantity of people at one public gathering over another.
Bigger is mostly synonymous with larger, but many consider larger the more formal word. Also, bigger can refer to someone or something that's more popular and/or has more power or strength. The formal aspect may be why you're more likely to hear the term "greater quantity" but not "bigger quantity." However, it's not unusual to hear about a bigger man in the same respect as referenced above.
One peculiar function of bigger is that popularity thing. Theoretically, a smaller person could be a bigger person in a room full of people, because that physically smaller person has a bigger personality than the rest. So you could refer to that physically smaller person as a bigger person and it would make sense, but it would not make sense to try to say the physically smaller person was a larger person (even though some people are "larger than life").
Greater, on the other hand, is most commonly used in reference to numbers or enhanced skills. Someone may be a greater athlete than their peers. And that same athlete may have a greater number of awards than anyone else to prove it. That said, greater is not commonly used to refer to the superior size of a person. So if you referred to our large man from earlier, you would not refer to him as the greater man (unless it's somehow tied to his personality or superior skills).
Higher may be used to refer to a person's increased height, but it would be limited to that solely. It could also be used to refer to a more advanced number or degree of something. In other words, a person could have a higher number of awards or their test scores are higher the second time they take a test.
Let's go through a few examples:
Correct: The farmer has a larger number of tomatoes than the grocer does.
Correct: The farmer has a bigger number of tomatoes than the grocer does.
Correct: The farmer has a greater number of tomatoes than the grocer does.
Correct: The farmer has a higher number of tomatoes than the grocer does.
(In this case, all are correct. But out of curiosity, which do you prefer? Share your opinion in the comments below.)
Correct: The larger guy refused to hit the smaller guy.
Correct: The bigger guy refused to hit the smaller guy.
Incorrect: The greater guy refused to hit the smaller guy.
Technically Could be Correct (but a little weird): The higher guy refused to hit the smaller guy.
(Note: "Taller" and "shorter" would be the more accurate terms for that last example.)
Correct: She has greater oratory skills than most.
Incorrect: She has larger oratory skills than most.
Incorrect: She has bigger oratory skills than most.
Incorrect: She has higher oratory skills than most.
Correct: He is a bigger deal than many realize.
Incorrect: He is a larger deal than many realize.
Incorrect: He is a greater deal than many realize.
Incorrect: He is a higher deal than many realize.
(By the way, change the pronoun for the examples above from "he" to "it," and all four words are correct, but could offer up a variety of meanings.)
Correct: Everyone knows 17 is larger than 16.
Correct: Everyone knows 17 is bigger than 16.
Correct: Everyone knows 17 is greater than 16.
Correct: Everyone knows 17 is higher than 16.
When referring to numbers, you really can't go astray when deciding between larger, bigger, greater, and higher. But it gets more complicated when figuring out when to describe physical size, degree of skills, and popularity.
No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.