When I am writing an article, from time to time, I am not sure which adjective to use when describing that something is significant (or insignificant).

  • My current problem is: significant advance in satellite communication. Is there any commonly used adjective for that? (large advance, vast advance, big advance,..)

Also there was a similar question: Large, huge or big communities?

In general, are there rules regarding this matter? Or the only thing what one can do is to get used to the right combination and search on web-pages like Google Ngram Viewer or Corpus of historical American English ?

  • 4
    The proper adjective usually depends on context: topic, audience, register, spoken or written, formal or informal, etc. If you're asking about what people normally say in a particular field, that's different: there are standard terms & phrases in the literature. There is no absolute standard for any brand of conversational English, except in set phrases that nobody changes. There are dialect & regional & local & generational differences, however. Not very helpful, but your question isn't very specific.
    – user264
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 8:39
  • actually it answers pretty well, according what you say: there are no rules on that, different fields uses different phrases I will try to make it more specific even though
    – MasterPJ
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 8:54
  • significant = major//a major advance in x
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 13:53

1 Answer 1


Significant means meaningful; it says nothing about magnitude. A small advance may be significant:

Gene analysis based on work done by the publicly funded Human Genome Project may have moved science a small but significant step closer to finding a better treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

By the same token, a large advance may be insignificant:

This tonnage represent a very large advance in airborne volume, but is still insignificant relative to over-the-road volume.

So if you mean significant, write significant - don't replace it with big or large or huge. If however you are talking about magnitude, let usage guide you; consulting a corpus is a very good idea. (But at the BYU site you want COCA, Corpus of Contemporary American Usage, or BNC, British National Corpus, rather than COHA.) Large and big vary idiomatically; huge, however, signifies a much greater magnitude than either of those, amazingly large, and in formal usage will suggest you are speaking hyperbolically unless you can substantiate the choice.

  • Significant = major, which is used quite a lot.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 13:54

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