Big and large have similar meanings but in some cases, they are not interchangeable. Is it right that one of such contexts is when speaking about drinks and containers for liquids? For example, a latte or a mug can be large but not big. Why?

  • Cups - Mugs IKEA ikea.com › ... › Coffee & tea - cups - mugs - No matter what hot beverage you fancy, whether it's a small espresso, a big latte or just a nice cup of tea, we'll have the perfect one for you. Commented Feb 15 at 8:49
  • Big Bottles of Champagne, Prosecco & Vodka | Big Bottles bigbottles.co.uk bigbottles.co.uk In most cases many of the bottles are available with free delivery. Celebrate your next occasion with a big bottle, perfect for you or a loved one! Commented Feb 15 at 8:50
  • T Bone Steak Strachan Craft Butchers strachancraftbutchers.co.uk › shop › t-bo... The T-Bone Steak offers you the Fillet Steak on one side of the 'T', and Sirloin Steak on the other. This is a BIG steak for BIG appetites. Commented Feb 15 at 8:51
  • greige.co.uk › products › Nordic Sea Large Cup and Saucer - These gorgeous squat cup and saucer sets are perfect for a big cappuccino or large cup of tea. Each piece is totally unique in tones of blue-grey-green. Commented Feb 15 at 9:08
  • 2
    In other words, there is nothing grammatically incorrect in saying a big cup of coffee; it's just that the standard expression used for portion sizes in cafe price lists happens to be large. Commented Feb 15 at 9:40

3 Answers 3


Formally, 'large' only ever refers to physical size, whereas 'big' can refer to both physical and non-physical things (eg "big ideas"). So, there may perhaps be a belief that 'big' can be subjective.

In answer to your question though, there is no particular 'rule' about which to use for food and drink. You can have a large drink with your Big Mac, for example.

There is perhaps a desire for standardisation in retail - if one food chain does a 'large' size then perhaps the others feel they should offer the same? There is a trend for coffee chains in the UK to market drink sizes with Italian words - for example, Starbucks has used 'grande' and 'venti'; some complain that this is unclear. One burger chain, Wendys, used to call their upsized fries 'Biggie' and 'Great Biggie' until they changed to 'large' and 'extra large' sometime around 2006 (in my territory at least).

  • 1
    I would argue that "Big Mac" isn't a very convincing example of usage of the word 'big' (versus 'large'), though.
    – Joachim
    Commented Feb 15 at 13:56
  • I had a big hamburger, not one of those rinky-dink sliders.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 15 at 16:02
  • Thanks! Trends influencing word choice obviously exist. However, what about your intuition about saying 'a big cappuccino'? Does it sound okay or you can't help but suggest changing the adjective to large?
    – Aer
    Commented Feb 15 at 16:02
  • 1
    @Aer as I said, both are fine... 'big' sounds more subjective and less formal - but that might be how you want to say. Saying "I had a big cappuccino earlier" might be a better way of expressing that it was larger than you expected or larger than you might normally drink. Saying "I had a large cappuccino" is just a repeat of your order.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Feb 15 at 23:28

Langeek explains the differences and similarities between big and large.

Both of these words can be used to refer to an object's size. However, 'large' is more formal, and 'big' is more common in everyday conversations.

When we want to talk about the size of clothing, we use 'large', not 'big'.

When we want to refer to an important issue or problem we must use 'big', not 'large'.

When we want to talk about the amount of something, we must use 'large', not 'big'.

This applies to the OP's example. We say large latte.

As for mug size, both big and large are used.

  • 1
    All true, but the OP is asking "why?" and as a native UK English speaker I have no idea whatsoever!
    – djna
    Commented Feb 15 at 8:14
  • " However, whenever we are referring to some other things like the importance of issues, clothes, etc." (Langeek) - this is demonstrably wrong. Commented Feb 15 at 8:30
  • 1
    I think formality is the answer for coffees. "Large" sounds classier.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 15 at 10:49

Essentially, big is for things you can measure. For example, I have a big shirt.

This gift is quite a big one.

However, large is for non-measurable items, just like much is instead of many.

For Example:

I am having a large amount of milk.

You are eating a large portion of food.

However, Sometimes they are interchanged like:

That is a large essay (you can count how many words are in an essay)

Overall, English is a complicated language and is all the languages combined.

You need to speak English with other people to slowly understand the ins and outs of the language.

  • If somebody told me they were writing a big essay, I would think they meant it was important (worth a lot of marks), rather than anything to do with its length. Commented Feb 16 at 16:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .