The phrases writ large and at large are commonly confused. Here is a mnemonic for remembering the difference:

Writ large usually means clear or obvious.
At large usually means in general.

The next section goes through dictionary definitions of the two phrases. If you prefer to learn by example, see the definitions of writ large and at large in the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Dictionary definitions

Why should you believe some random internet guy about the difference between these two phrases? You don’t have to. You can believe dictionary editors, instead.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary

This is the dictionary of “first reference for spelling, style, usage and foreign geographic names” for the Associated Press Stylebook. Since I’m a journalist, and I’m targeting journalists with this information, I’ll use this as a first reference.

Below are the relevant definitions from Webster’s. Note that the links below are accessible only with a digital subscription to the dictionary via the AP Stylebook.

writ large

expressed, shown, or done on a larger scale or in a clearer or more emphatic way

Webster’s New World College Dictionary (excerpt of entry on writ, second use)

at large

  1. free; not confined; not in jail
  2. fully; in complete detail
  3. in general; taken altogether
  4. ☆ representing an entire state or other district rather than only one of its subdivisions: often in hyphenated compounds [a congressman at large]
  5. covering any area or many areas; not covering any specific area: often in hyphenated compounds [a critic at large]

Webster’s New World College Dictionary (excerpt of entry on large)

Note that the definition of writ large is from the entry on writ, which is an archaic preterite and past participle of write.

The definition of at large is from the entry on large.

New Oxford American Dictionary

The Oxford University Press publishes this dictionary, which also comes on Macs. The versions of these definitions are from, which hosts a free version of the dictionary.

Click the links with each definition to see extensive lists of example sentences for each phrase.

writ large

  1. Clear and obvious.
    ‘the unspoken question writ large upon Rose’s face’
    1. In a stark or exaggerated form.
      ‘bribing people by way of tax allowances is the paternalistic state writ large’

Oxford University Press via (entry on writ large)

at large

  1. (especially of a criminal or dangerous animal) at liberty; escaped or not yet captured.
    ‘the fugitive was still at large’
  2. As a whole; in general.
    ‘there has been a loss of community values in society at large’
  3. (also at-large)
    US In a general way; without particularizing.
    ‘the magazine’s editor at large’
  4. dated At length; in great detail.
    ‘writing at large on the policies he wished to pursue’

Oxford University Press via (entry on at large)

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