Easy English mix-up: tall and high

One mix up that I often notice with my students occurs when we are talking about height. For example, a student might say to me: “I am 5 five high”, which of course is grammatically incorrect. So let’s talk about each of these words and look at the differences between them.

Tall – Having great or above average height

High – Elevated or of great vertical extent

Even with these definitions, it can still be difficult to clearly identify the difference between these words out of context. So let’s look at some other things that can help us decide which is the correct word to use.

When we are talking about height of a person, we will always use ‘tall.’ In fact, anytime we talk about a living thing, we would generally use ‘tall’. Anything that doesn’t grow because it is not living, we generally use ‘high.’

Also, for things that narrow or thin, use ‘tall’. Conversely, for things that are wide, use ‘high’.

The last thing to remember is, if something is elevated above sea level, use ‘high.’

Before we look at some examples, let’s have a summary. In order to decide which word to use, you can ask yourself a few questions:

1. Is what you’re talking about living (tall) or non-living (high)?
2. Is the thing narrow (tall) or is it wide (high)?
3. Is the thing elevated above sea level (high?)

So now let’s look at some examples. Fill in the blank with the correct answer: (high/tall).

1. The airplane is flying ________ above the clouds.
2. Tom is the __________ in the class.
3. The giraffe is a _______ animal.
4. The fence is ________.

Answers: 1. High, 2. Tallest, 3. Tall, 4. High.

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