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Session 1

Comparatives and superlatives

Come on in and take a look at the BBC's newest building - and the home of BBC Learning English. Along the way you'll learn about comparatives and superlatives, so you can talk about the biggest and best things in your life.

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Activity 3

6 Minute Vocabulary: Similar words

Similar words

It's time for 6 Minute Vocabulary with Rob and Sophie. Today we're talking about similar words, like 'big' and 'large', and explore the similarities and differences in these words.

And here's something to think about. Is Dubai's Burj Khalifa the biggest or tallest building in the world?

Listen to the audio

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Rob
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute Vocabulary with me Rob...

Sophie
And me Sophie. And today's show is all about similar words.

Rob
Yes, similar words - words that are close in meaning, but which we use in different ways. We'll look at what they are, what they mean and how to use them.

Sophie
We're hoping for high scores in our quiz...

Rob
And we'll leave you with a big tip for learning vocabulary.

Sophie
So, first let's listen to two architects travelling up the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai.

Rob
Here's a question to think about while you listen: what's special about this building?

Sophie
What's special about this building? Let's find out.

Insert 1

Marisa
We've reached the top. How high are we?

Jon
We're on the 124th floor.

Marisa
Wow - so this is the tallest building in the world. It's pretty impressive.

Jon
You can really see how big the city is. And also what a large number of construction projects are happening here.

Marisa
So why did we come here today?

Jon
Well, I've got some big ideas about our next building project that I want to discuss!

Rob
So, Jon and Marisa are architects. And we asked you: what's special about the Burj Khalifa?

Sophie
And the answer is: it's the tallest building in the world.

Rob
And 'tall' is one of today's similar words.

Sophie
That's right, and 'high' is another. These words have a similar meaning - they describe something that is more than average height.

Rob
So what's the difference, Sophie?

Sophie
We usually use 'high' for things that are wider than their vertical height, for example, high mountains or a high wall. And we use 'tall' for things that are narrower than their vertical height, like people or trees.

Rob
Or buildings - as we heard just now. Buildings with many floors often have greater height than width, like the Burj Khalifa.

Sophie
That's right. But we can also talk about 'high buildings': Sherlock Holmes fell from the top of a high building.

Rob
Context is always important for choosing the right word. We use 'high' in this sentence because it's the position of the top of the building that's important - not the building as a whole.

Sophie
Great explanation, Sherlock. Another example?

Rob
OK. 'Big' and 'large'. These words both mean something that is more than average size. In general, we use 'big' more often than 'large' - and we use it to talk about real things, like 'big cities', and abstract things, like 'big ideas'. 

Sophie
What's your big idea for today, Rob?

Rob
Well, my big idea of the day is world peace. You hear about so much death and destruction in the news I really think that world peace is what we should be aiming for.

Sophie
Well, that is a big idea - big because unfortunately it's quite an abstract idea, which is why we say big idea and not large idea. So, when do we use large?

Rob
OK, well, we use 'large' when we want to sound more formal, for example, Dubai has the largest population in the United Arab Emirates.

Sophie
We also use 'large' in some fixed expressions. Jon talks about Dubai having 'a large number of construction projects' in progress.

IDENT
6 Minute Vocabulary from bbclearningenglish.com.

Rob
And we're talking about similar words. Now let's hear today's words again.

Sophie
Big and large. Meaning more than average size.

Rob
'Big' for real and abstract things: big city, big house, big decision, big ideas. 'Large' for real things with a more formal tone: a large population, a large number of projects, a large amount of money.

Sophie
High and tall. Meaning more than average height.

Rob
'High' for things that are wider than their vertical height: high mountains, high wall, high windows, high bookshelf. 'Tall' for things that are narrower than their vertical height: tall buildings, tall people, tall trees, tall grass, tall Sophie!

Sophie
Thanks Rob! And remember that context is very important!

Rob
Thank you Sophie. And now it's quiz time. Is the English in these sentences right or wrong? Number 1: My brother is 180cm high.

Sophie
And the answer is: Wrong. He's 180cm tall.
Number 2. I looked down from the high window to the garden below.

Sophie
And the answer is: Right. And finally, number 3. Moving house is a large decision to make.

Rob
And the answer is: Wrong. It's a big decision!

Sophie
And that brings us almost to the end of the programme.

Rob
But before we go, here's our big tip for remembering vocabulary: use internet search engines to check how often words are used together. It'll help you choose the right words!

Sophie
There's more about this at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Vocabulary.

Both
Bye!

Download

You can download 6 Minute Vocabulary from our Unit 13 downloads page or from our 6 Minute Vocabulary podcast page. (size 8MB)

Vocabulary points to take away

tall

more than average height

Example 1: Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.

Example 2: My brother is six foot tall.

high

more than average height

Example 1: Sherlock Holmes fell from the top of a high building.

Example 2: I put the books on a high shelf.

big

more than average size

Example 1: You can see how big the city is.

Example 2: Moving house is a big decision.

large

more than average size

Example 1: Dubai has the largest population in the United Arab Emirates.

Example 2: I made a large chocolate cake for the party.

End of Session 1

We hope you enjoyed learning about the home of the BBC and the Learning English team! In Session 2, we will focus on comparative and superlative adjectives for describing changes.

Session Vocabulary

  • tall
    more than average height

    Example 1: Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.

    Example 2: My brother is six foot tall.

    high
    more than average height

    Example 1: Sherlock Holmes fell from the top of a high building.

    Example 2: I put the books on a high shelf.

    big
    more than average size

    Example 1: You can see how big the city is.

    Example 2: Moving house is a big decision.

    large
    more than average size

    Example 1: Dubai has the largest population in the United Arab Emirates.

    Example 2: I made a large chocolate cake for the party.