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Dr Grammar

By and large

Posted by peter   2 Nov 2013 1 59 am

1.) Are the phrase "by and large" and the adverb "generally" interchangeable in most context to be used as a signpost word?

2.) Is it common to use the phrase "by and large" in spoken English?

Cheers :)

Posted by alex stringer   2 Nov 2013 10 59 am

There's no difference between them.

My first feeling was that 'generally' is neutral and 'by and large' slightly more likely to be spoken. However, I did a quick experiment using the British National Corpus,* and the results would suggest otherwise; 'by and large' is quite common in academic texts too:

By and large the evidence which Engels and his contemporaries saw as significant of the high status of women in primitive societies is often wrong. [academic]

...anthropologists as D. Forde [1948], M. Fortes]1953], and M. Sahlins [1961]have given support to the view that ... they are by and large of the type...[academic]

In any case, this was not, by and large, the way state spending was financed in the boom.[academic]

By and large, the same people are still in positions of power in those authorities. [academic/journalism]

Thankfully, by and large, Baxter kept controversy out of his pulpit ministry. [academic]

You could substitute 'generally' or 'generally speaking' in any of these examples, except perhaps the last one, which would sound awkward with two 'ly' adverbs together.

However, when 'generally' is used to modify a noun, 'by and large' is less common:

It was a generally exciting match.
He gave a generally honest account of his experience.
The site is a generally reliable source of information.

You could use 'by and large' in terms of meaning for these examples, but it would be better placed at the beginning or the end:

By and large it was an interesting game
He gave an honest account of his experience by and large.

*The British National Corpus search tool gives you 50 examples of a word in context from the corpus, a 100-million-word database of recent and authentic texts both written and spoken. It's fun to play with if you like words.

Posted by peter   2 Nov 2013 12 06 pm

Many thanks for the explanations and suggestions, Alex!

Very good to know about the BNC as well.


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