Posted by: Jack Henry | January 7, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Use vs. Utilize

Hello, everyone!

I hope you all had a nice set of holidays and that you are ready to tackle 2020! Today I have a topic that several of you have written to me about: the words use and utilize.

Some of you have written saying that you hate it when people overuse the word utilize. Others have written me asking why people (like editors) often change the word utilize to use. Let’s have a look at these two words, from portions of an article on the Elite Editing website.

When should you use “use,” and when should you pull out that big vocabulary and use “utilize”?

Aside from sounding pretentious when using the latter, at first glance these words seem almost identical. The definition of use is “to put into action, employ, utilize.” Likewise, the definition of utilize is “to make use of, employ.” But utilize also carries with it an assumed strategy of employment.

What does that mean?

Utilize can be used when indicating that the application is beyond its original intended use. For instance, “I use my frying pan to cook with, but I have utilized it as a weapon.” The intended use of a frying pan is for cooking, so the proper word here is use. When employing a creative or unintended application, like using a frying pan as a weapon, utilize is the right word.

Here are some more examples of the two words head-to-head, in sentences that use them correctly:

  • I used bricks to build a new fireplace.
  • I utilized bricks to fight off swarms of termites trying to eat my house.
  • Jerry likes to use five-gallon buckets of white paint to mix in his own subtle colors.
  • Jerry likes to utilize five-gallon buckets of white paint as steps from his unfinished front deck to his driveway.
  • Shayna uses her laptop to work on spreadsheets.
  • Shayna utilizes her laptop as a doorstop.

I hope that helps. When you think about most of the time people say or write utilize, they are really talking about using something in its intended manner; save utilize for those rare occasions of “creative or unintended applications.”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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