Macro vs. micro?

Macro and micro are near opposites of each other. We use “macro” to mean ‘large’ and “micro” to mean ‘very small.’

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What is the difference between macro and micro?

One of the most common questions writers ask involves the words macro and micro. They differ by one letter and occupy similar terminology, such as “macrocosm vs. microcosm” or “macroeconomics vs. microeconomics.” Although these words seem complicated, we promise macro vs. micro is not.  

The main difference between macro and micro is that “macro” means ‘large’ and “micro” means ‘extremely small.’ The terms are near opposites of one another, although “micro” tends to convey minuscule sizes, and “macro” can mean ‘relatively large’ instead of “giant.”  

What does macro mean?

The word macro is an adjective, noun, or a combining form–– the latter originating from Greek makros for ‘long’ and ‘large.’ As noted by the New Oxford American Dictionary, the adjective and noun forms of macro developed independently of “macros-” (“Macro” 1049). 

Macro as a combining form

As a combining form, the word macro allows any term to imply the essence of being “long,” “long-term,” “large,” “large scale,” or just “relatively large” in comparison to a standard size (in health care) (1049). For example, we use macro- for words like:

  • Macroeconomics: ‘a branch of economics that involves large-scale economic factors, such as interest rates or national fiscal policy.’
  • Macroevolution: ‘major biological evolution.’
  • Macromolecule: ‘a molecule with several atoms.’

Macro as an adjective

The adjective macro describes something as exceptionally prominent,’ ‘thick,’ or  ‘large-scale.’ For example, photographers use macro lenses for macrophotography, where small objects are captured close-up enough to fill the entire photo. Sentence examples include, 

  • “Think of the Board as the ‘macro,’ credit-modulatory tier of our system.” –– Forbes
  • Macro-history gives us a big picture, but politics, as “Hamilton” reminds us, happens in hidden rooms.” –– The New Yorker
  • “… immaculate teamfighting and macro decision-making takes care of business.” –– ESPN
  • “‘Once it’s clear the epidemic is behind us, macro conditions will re-emerge.’” –– Forbes

Synonyms

Big, capacious, colossal, copious, enormous, global, huge, immense, jumbo, large, large-scale, massive, prominent, voluminous. 

Macro as a noun

The noun macro (also known as “macro computing” or “macro instruction”) is an individual instruction that automatically expands into several other tasks or instructions. For example, 

  • “…Jio’s 4G network was a relatively traditional one, supplied by a single macro RAN vendor…” –– Fierce Telecom

What does micro mean?

The word micro also occurs in the English language as an adjective, noun, or combining form, where the latter originates from Greek mikros for ‘small.’ 

Micro- as a combining form

Micro- is a common combining form that allows any word to imply the essence of being ‘small’ or ‘reduced or restricted in size.’ However, we also find the prefix in titles of metric measurement, where micro- denotes a factor of one-millionth (10-6) (“Micro” 1104). Words containing “micro-” include: 

  • Microorganism: ‘an imperceivable small organism, such as a bacteria or parasites, that causes illness or fermentation.’ 
  • Microeconomics: ‘a branch of economics that focuses on individual factors or decisions, such as an institution’s monetary policy, or their marketing strategy for a new product or price level.’
  • Micron: ‘a unit of measurement approximate to one-millionth of a meter.’ 

Micro as an adjective

The adjective micro describes something as being small-scale,’extremely small,’ ‘restricted in size,’ or involving “minute quantities or variations” (1104). For example,

  • “Think of the regional Federal Reserve Banks as the ‘micro,’ credit-allocative tier of this System.” –– Forbes
  • “… with more data comes the ability to hone in on a more micro level and reach individuals.” –– USA Today
  • “… a special micro shopping district that seemed to specialize exclusively in silken bathrobes.” –– The New York Times

Synonyms

Diminutive, infinitesimal, invisible to the naked eye, mini, microscale, microscopic, minuscule, minute, nanoscopic, nanosized, reduced, tiny, very small.

Micro as a noun

As a noun, the word micro is short for “microcomputer” or “microprocessor.” According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a microcomputer is a small computer (often personal). Microcomputers often contain a microprocessor, a small (memory) processor on an “integrated-circuit chip.” For example, 

  • “Allen and Gates wrote a version of the BASIC programming language that could run on the Altair, then turned their collaboration into a company they called Micro-Soft.” –– Fast Company
  • “In contrast, microcomputers had an unforeseen potential for privacy, individual use, and personal ownership of code.” –– The Atlantic  

How to use macro vs. micro in a sentence?

Incorporating macro and micro into your writing style is simple, so long as you pay attention to proper grammar and spelling. Let’s review two simple rules for using macro and micro in a sentence correctly: 

#1. Use a hyphen with micro and macro when they modify a noun to create an individual concept. Otherwise, allow the adjective to stand alone. For example,

  • “The University of Akron said it will offer micro-internships — short-term, paid, professional assignments — in conjunction with a Chicago consulting firm.” –– Cleveland Business Journal 
  • “Social justice on social media: the rise of woke micro-Influencers.” –– Vice
  • “… these small festive moments (we’re calling these “micro-mases“) will be more treasured than ever before as we continue to take joy from the small things.’” –– House Beautiful

#2. Always close proper terms where micro- and macro- serve as prefixes. For example, 

  • “DNA studies show microevolution in penguins.” –– Science Daily
  • “Macrophage reprogramming [is] more complex than previously thought.” – Science Times
  • “Suburbia is an ever-changing ‘microcosm of America’ that could dominate the upcoming election.” –– Business Insider Australia

Test Yourself!

Challenge how well you understand the difference between macro and micro with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: “macro” and micro are near opposites. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. The word “micro” originates from which Greek word? 
    a. Minimis
    b. Mikroskopikós
    c. Mikros
    d. Mikrótero
  3. If we analyze something at a “macro level,” we are analyzing at a ____________.
    a. Average scale
    b. Small scale
    c. Large scale
    d. Smallest scale
  4. Which of the following concepts is unrelated to the prefix “micro-”?
    a. Microcomputers
    b. Microprocessors 
    c. Metric system
    d. None of the above
  5. When do we use hyphens for “macro” or “micro”? 
    a. Prefixes
    b. Proper nouns
    c. Adjectives that combine with nouns to make one word
    d. A and C

Answers

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. D
  5. D

Sources

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  2. Erzberger, T. “Top five AD carries at the League of Legends World Championship.” ESPN, 18 Sept 2020. 
  3. Gopnik, Adam. “Why We Keep Reinventing Abraham Lincoln.” The New Yorker, 28 Sept 2020. 
  4. Heath, O. “This year will be a Christmas of ‘mini-mases’: more smaller celebrations at home in December.” House Beautiful, 16 Sept 2020. 
  5. Hockett, R. “The Fed Is A ‘Development Bank’ – Make It Our Development Bank Again.” Forbes, 30 Sept 2020. 
  6. Jamison, L. “Is It Strange to Say I Miss the Bodies of Strangers?The New York Times, 22 Sept 2020. 
  7. Macro.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  8. Macro.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  9. “Macro,” “Micro.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 1049, 1104. 
  10. McCracken, H. “The most important computer magazine in the history of computer magazines is back.” Fast Company, 29 Jan 2015.
  11. Micro.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  12. Micro.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  13. Microcomputer.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  14. Microprocessor.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  15. Miller, B. “University of Akron offering ‘micro-internship’ program with Parker Dewey.” Cleveland Business Journal, 2 Sept 2020. 
  16. Nooney, L. “Computer game.” The Atlantic, 2 Dec 2014. 
  17. Scott, M. “Will Coronavirus Infect Global Economic Growth? It’s In The Balance.” Forbes, 3 Mar 2020. 
  18. Walker, M. “Jio’s ambitions to become 5G vendor are a stretch, but more realistic than Rakuten’s.” Fierce Telecom, 27 July 2020.