It seems the more I learn the language, the more complicate it becomes for my mind.

At school, our teacher taught us that 'tall' is used for people and 'high' for inanimate objects. Then, when I got my desktop PC already being an adult, I learned it's not quite true. One must say 'a high mountain,' but 'a tall tower.' So we probably use 'tall' for objects whose height is bigger than their width.

But, for example, I don't know if either the side or the diagonal of the base of a pyramid is larger than its height and I am too lazy to measure them. Or, worse, it can be an enormous cube, which, you know, is symmetrical. So 'a high pyramid' or 'a tall pyramid'; 'a tall cube' or 'a high cube'? Or is there a possibility of both adjectives being appropriate?

Thanks a lot!

  • Just to make things more complicated: Imagine you were giving your friend directions and there was a huge cube in the middle of town. I don't think I'd say "go to the tall cube" or "go to the high cube". I would use big or large. So your intuition is right that this is a subtle area. Tall pyramid is better than high pyramid, although I would still prefer big pyramid. – legatrix Dec 30 '20 at 13:12

I think your teacher is mistaken. Generally, "tall" refers to height (how tall something is), while "high" refers to location.

I would personally refer to "the tallest mountains," but I'd say that they have "the highest peaks." The peaks are located high up (at the top of the tall mountains), so that describes the location. The mountains themselves are not located at a high point, just the peak.

Thus, a pyramid would be "a tall pyramid."

Other examples:

  • tall building
  • high floors (of a tall building)
  • high clouds
  • tall people
  • high elevation (refers to a location)
  • 1
    A tall ship is a sailing vessel with tall spars, just to add another example – Grand Torini Dec 30 '20 at 21:13

This is a really interesting question. I think as a general rule we use tall for objects which are attached to the ground near us especially if their vertical extent is greater than their horizontal. So tall person, tower, tree, mast. We use high for larger objects or ones not attached to the ground so high cloud, peak, mountain. So in your example tall would be preferable to high. I would definitely use taller if I was comparing two pyramids. The case of the cube is an interesting one and although it seems like opting out big or large seems preferable.

Note that there are some standard uses which you just have to learn like tall ship or high jump.

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