What's the idiomatic adjective for the noun "queue"?

I waited there in a very long queue.


I waited there in a very big queue.

Or maybe something else?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 3 '19 at 0:40
  • Not directly related to the question, but you should know that in American English we say "line". "queue" is British English. The choice of adjective is the same as in the answers.
    – Barmar
    Feb 4 '19 at 17:28

As this NGram query shows, long is the right answer.

enter image description here

This doesn't tell you why or even how to remember it, but I agree with Andrew's answer that long tends to be used for one-dimensional objects and big and large for higher dimensions. An area can be long but not big; take the country Chile as an example. It's long, and big when compared to my backyard but rather small next to its neighbour Argentina.

  • 1
    Excellent example of an NGram query not showing you anything at all about the actual colloquial usage. Besides, it doesn't actually represent the two phrases being asked about (though this corrected query still produces the same misleading answer) Feb 4 '19 at 11:09

A "queue" is, by definition, line-shaped, therefore it makes sense to define it by its length rather than its size. So "a long queue".

In contrast, a "crowd" is kind of blob-shaped, so you would say "a big/large crowd".

  • 5
    +1, and note that this exact same explanation is valid for the AmEng variant of a BrEng queue, that is, a line. The grocery store has long lines at the checkouts, it doesn't have big lines.
    – cobaltduck
    Feb 2 '19 at 20:28

I can't argue with the logic of previous answers, preferring 'Long'.

But, as a native English speaker, I have to say that 'a big queue' would raise no eyebrows.

  • I would add huge as well "the queue was HUGE"
    – WendyG
    Feb 4 '19 at 10:15
  • 3
    "Massive" is another one I hear far more commonly than "big". Eg, "Sorry I'm late, there was a massive queue at Tesco's" Feb 4 '19 at 11:35
  • I would say if the queue/line was a single, mostly straight, line, you would only use "long", but if it snaked back onto itself, big or other such adjectives start to become more common.
    – pboss3010
    Feb 4 '19 at 16:26

Either one is fine to my British ears. Because of the physical shape of queues, any big queue has to be long, so the words have equivalent meaning in this case.

  • "any big queue has to be long" - That is not necessarily true in countries (like the USA?) which don't understand the basic concept of queuing. In such places, big queues tend to circular, not linear.
    – alephzero
    Feb 2 '19 at 23:58
  • There are no queues in the US for lines, at the theater, cinema,for tickets, etc. There is not even a short or long of it here.
    – Lambie
    Feb 3 '19 at 0:25
  • I hear queue a lot in the California Bay Area these days to refer to lines. I think because of the influence of the influx of people who grew up with British English - but I hear it from natives.
    – rrauenza
    Feb 3 '19 at 5:37
  • 2
    @alephzero You seem to be referring to a crowd of people waiting, not a queue. And Americans seem fine with queueing in my experience... Feb 3 '19 at 15:56

Only "half-native" here but just today I used "big queue" and it certainly did not raise any eyebrows among the "full-natives" around me.

Additionally to the previous answers I'd say that "big" can be understood as a "category" containing "long" and other "shapes" of "big". Therefore you could always use the superordinate "big" to replace any of the "subordinate" and more specific forms of "big".


It depends on the context of the metric(s) being considered(mostly implicitly).

When we consider something in terms of only its length and not width, we use long.

For example:

  • Nile river is 6695 km long. It is the longest river on the planet earth.

  • Mount Everest is 8848m high or 8848m long.

When we consider something in terms of its width, we use words such as "big"

For example:

  • Nile river covers a big area of approx. 14000 sq km.

  • The biggest continent on earth is Asia.

  • I have never heard a mountain described as “long”, just a mountain range. I don’t think you’re completely off-base, but I do think you are over-generalizing. Big doesn’t mean wide - a “big” man can be either tall, or wide, or both for example.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 4 '19 at 16:13
  • yeah but we do use word "high" in such contexts. "high" is a metric for length and not at all for area anyway. Feb 4 '19 at 20:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.