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Incomparable vs. uncomparable

Two or more things that can’t be compared with each other are uncomparable. Something that is so good that it is beyond comparison is incomparable. Some dictionaries don’t list uncomparable, and your spell check might say it’s wrong, but it’s a perfectly good, useful word. It fills a role not conventionally filled by incomparable.

Examples

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Today it is cattle grazing on private ranches that preserves 20 million acres of incomparable landscape. [San Francisco Chronicle]

With some words the two languages seem to mirror each other; and sometimes the two lingos are uncomparable.  [SemTribe]

Kobe Bryant remains incomparable, but Fisher, Brown, Blake and Artest suddenly appear weak, making the team vulnerable. [SportsFanLive]

[B]ut the quantity of it is uncomparable to the number of those in the language of Shakespeare. [Spotted by Locals]

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Comments

  1. vaibhavatul47 says:

    finally.. :-)

  2. It’s not in Scrabble’s TWL… sorry, can’t accept it :P

  3. I disagree with this assessment. “Incomparable” can definitely mean “not able to be compared.” It’s not just that some dictionaries don’t list “uncomparable”–in fact, *most* dictionaries don’t list it. ;)

    • Well said. Incomparable does mean “unable to be compared.” It’s just that the vast majority of the times it appears in colloquial speech it’s meant figuratively, not literally. “They [figuratively] can’t be compared because it’s no contest.” (Obviously they can be compared or you couldn’t judge it to be “no contest”, could you?) This difference in frequency of usage is all the truth there is to the statement “It fills a role not conventionally filled by incomparable.”

      The difference between the prefixes un- and in- is like the difference between the words ‘an’ and ‘a’—they have exactly the same meaning, effectively being the same word, just morphed two different ways depending on what they’re attached to in the interest of requiring less energy to pronounce. Your distinction between “uncomparable” and incomparable is effectively just an attempt to bring the difference between literal and figurative usage into the meaning of the word itself. Why? Can we not handle two shades of meaning? Should we try to get rid of “figurative” meanings of other words by varying the spelling of the word?

      There’s a reason “uncomparable” isn’t in dictionaries and spell checkers tell you it’s wrong: it’s not a word!

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