What is the meaning of the phrase “at large”?

The phrase “at large” has a few different meanings, which depend on the context of how the phrase is actually used. Let’s go through the different meanings of the phrase, along with examples and definitions for those specific examples.

What does “at large” mean in a title?

You will often see the title “writer at large” or “editor at large”. What exactly do those titles mean? Well, both “writer at large” and “editor at large” are titles for people who work at magazines and/or newspapers, and the “at large” portion of those titles generally means that those people do not belong to a specific department within the magazine or newspaper. Instead, people with those titles tend to write or edit different stories – not stories that belong to a specific department (like Sports or Technology). People with these titles tend to be more talented and valued, which is why they are sort of allowed more flexibility in their jobs.

Example of “at large” in a title

"The editor at large was highly respected at
his newspaper."

What does at large mean on a board of directors?

If a member of a board of directors is said to be “at large”, that means that he/she does not have very specific duties like the other members of the board of directors might have. So, the member at large represents the board of directors on issues that arise that are not specific to the committee structure. An “at large” member may have different voting rights from the normal, non-at large members of the board – it varies from company to company. The role of an at large member is largely “ad hoc”, and determined by other members of the board who have designated titles – and generally the at large member is brought on to the board because of his/her specific skill set that other members of the board may not have. This allows for more flexibility within the board and ability to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

Example of “at large” with board of directors

"The member at large of the board of directors was 
brought on because of her special insight into
online marketing - something which none of the
other board members knew anything about"

What does “suspect at large” mean?

If a suspect is at large, it means that he or she is considered to be a possible suspect in a crime and can not be found – so he/she is “at large”, which means that the police are looking for him.

Example of “at large” for a suspect

"The killer was at large for two weeks before
he was found and brought in by the police."

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