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Thread: big words

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    #1

    big words

    Hi.

    I've heard native speakers say not to use big words in daily conversations. I wonder if "big" means "pompous", "difficult to understand" or something else.

    Here's an example.

    Many Chinese English learners know only how to use big words; I don't think they're familiar with idiomatic English. (From a book about spoken English.)

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    #2

    Re: big words

    It generally means "long" in this context. English has many sets of synonyms with a short, Anglo-Saxon word, a medium-length French-derived word, and a longer, Latin-derived word. Using too many of the long words in everyday speech sounds pompous.
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  3. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: big words

    I agree of course that it does mean literally 'long' but it also crucially means infrequent, uncommon, formal. As GoesStation points out, words derived from Latin are generally longer and more formal than those derived from Old English.

    Not all long words are big words.

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    #4

    Re: big words

    I learned the word "penultimate" from an Italian woman. It's a perfectly good word, but people usually say "next to last."

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    #5

    Re: big words

    Whilst I agree that many people use "next to last", I wouldn't consider "penultimate" to be uncommon. It is, however, quite long.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #6

    Re: big words

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    Whilst I agree that many people use "next to last", I wouldn't consider "penultimate" to be uncommon. It is, however, quite long.
    It's so rare in American English that, if you do hear it, the speaker is likely to misuse it as an emphatic form of "ultimate". Because so many speakers misunderstand it, it's best avoided in American English.
    Last edited by GoesStation; 12-Nov-2019 at 22:32.
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    #7

    Re: big words

    Latin words perplex the bean.
    Saxon words say what you mean.
    ~---Unk.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with using "big" words, but too often both ESL learners and native speakers when they use them they use them wrongly. That's because they don't fully grasp them, but they use them anyway. It's good to add words to your vocabulary, but you should always speak or write in a way that people understand you. (My opinion.)
    Last edited by Tarheel; 13-Nov-2019 at 04:18. Reason: Insert missing word
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    #8

    Re: big words

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    Whilst I agree that many people use "next to last", I wouldn't consider "penultimate" to be uncommon. It is, however, quite long.
    The word could easily be replaced with "second last" in BrE, ("next to last" is new to me, probably AmE) in everyday use.
    However, it is common in construction in referring to the pre-final payment certificate to a contractor, and in quantum physics, so it is more of a technical jargon.
    I am not a teacher or a native speaker.

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    #9

    Re: big words

    "Next to last" is certainly used in BrE. I would say it's probably more common than "second to last" which, I have discovered, is misunderstood by some people to mean antepenultimate - by that I mean they think it is the second thing before the last thing; they think there is another thing between the second to last thing and the last thing! One of my younger relatives told me that she assumed that the thing before the last thing would be called "first from last".
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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