Use vs. utilize often presents a dilemma, as many consider them synonyms. Use refers to using something for a given purpose, and utilize implies making the most effective use of something, often in a manner not initially intended. But wait, is it utilised or utilized? This distinction in spelling stems from British vs. American English conventions.
Understanding the correct usage for both is more than just semantics; it’s a building block for clearer, more precise communication in your writing. So, if you’ve ever scratched your head on whether to add use or utilize to a sentence, this article is your go-to resource. We’ll break down their usage, definition, and nuanced differences, discuss if they’re synonyms, and look into why mastering this seemingly minor grammatical point can make a big impact on your writing.
Utilise or Utilize?
In most cases, the correct spelling is utilize. Utilise is commonly used in the U.K. Both are correct. But utilize is more widely accepted.
Use vs. Utilize
Utilize is not a fancy way to say use because it has a different meaning. Use means to consume from a limited supply or take something to achieve a result. Utilize means to use something beyond its intended purpose.
That means use is not a synonym for utilize. Another difference between use and utilize is their parts of the speech. Use can be considered a noun or a verb, while utilize is only a verb.
How Do You Use the Word Utilize Correctly?
Use the word utilize when you are using something beyond its original and intended purpose. You may use a bat to play baseball, but you can utilize it as a self-defense tool.
There are other meanings for utilize. It can also mean to convert something for a specific use or to make something useful in a new way. For example, you could utilize a ballpen as a bookmark while reading.
Definition of Use With Examples
The word use has been in the English language since at least 1200. It has several definitions depending on the part of the speech. It should also be the word of choice over the word utilize in nearly all cases.
Use as a Verb
Use means to engage with something to accomplish a task, achieve a goal, or take advantage.
- I used a pie chart to show our profit percentages for different products.
- Don’t use plastic when microwaving your food.
- Her mother grew up using petroleum jelly as a face cream.
Use may also mean to exploit someone or something. In these cases, use functions as a transitive verb, which is a verb that takes an object.
- It’s unfortunate that she only used him for money.
- The paparazzi is willing to use the grieving actress for hefty paychecks.
- Jason wants to use the country’s low tax rates.
In both definitions of the verb use, the objects are brought into action in the standard or typical way.
Related words are uses, used, and using. When use functions as a verb, the s is pronounced as a z.
Use as a Noun
Use is also used as a noun to mean the action or ability to engage with something to accomplish a task, achieve a goal, or take advantage.
When functioning as a noun, the s in use is pronounced as an s.
- The iPad is programmed for use in school.
- The use of chemical weapons is not allowed.
- That red notebook is for this week’s exam use only.
- His grandfather’s giant rule stick is still in use.
Origin of “Use” and “Utilize”
Both words originate from the Latin word util-. However, use is much older in English than utilize, which explains its more comprehensive definition.
Utilize also has Middle French roots and only appeared in the 1800s in the English language. It comes from the French word utiliser, which means making effective use of something.
Even though it has the same Latin origin, it’s closer to utility. It also has a more narrow definition.
Studying the origins of use and utilize makes us realize that use can be used in different contexts. But utilize should only be used to indicate a “creative” use. For example, when you’re pointing at an object with a ruler, you’re utilizing it.
But don’t worry about the uselessness of utilize! You can always use other synonyms for use. They include employ, manage, and apply.
Examples Where “Use” or “Utilize” Works
You can almost always substitute utilize for use. But you can’t replace the word use with utilize. That means you can only employ utilize when you mean to use something creatively. Here are some examples where use and utilize both work.
- Anna had to use a clothespin to hold her bangs up.
- Anna had to utilize a clothespin to hold her bangs up.
- Try using old newspapers as liners for your cat’s litter box.
- Try utilizing old newspapers as liners for your cat’s litter box.
- I had to use my clothes as a rope when mountain climbing at times.
- There were times when I had to utilize my clothes as a rope when mountain climbing.
- The soldiers used garlic to treat wounds.
- The soldiers utilized garlic to treat wounds.
- I’m using the basement as my temporary laundry room during the renovation.
- I’m utilizing the basement as my temporary laundry room during the renovation.
Examples Where Only “Use” Works
These sentence examples only employ use because the object being used is for their primary intent.
- Correct: Use the espresso machine for your daily cup of Joe.
- Incorrect: Utilize the espresso machine for your daily cup of Joe.
- Correct: When are you using the candle warmer for your scented candles?
- Incorrect: When are you utilizing the candle warmer for your scented candles?
- Correct: The new teacher used a different lesson plan.
- Incorrect: The new teacher utilized a different lesson plan.
- Correct: Please use a ruler for your margins.
- Incorrect: Please utilize a ruler for your margins.
- Correct: I’ve used all my phone storage on images and videos.
- Incorrect: c
What Is Wrong With the Word Utilize?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the word utilize. However, early-career writers employ the word utilize instead of use because it sounds more important or more formal than the word use.
Even a regular person would assume that they mean the same. And they will prefer using utilize because it’s longer and more bureaucratic.
That’s because some dictionaries consider them as synonyms. Synonyms are words with the same meaning. However, the definition of utilize differs from use.
Some people may use utilize to turn a regular sentence into a pretentious-sounding sentence. But it won’t make them sound like an intelligent person.
In Scientific Writing
There’s also an ongoing talk about scientific writers being allowed to use utilize and use interchangeably. However, many writers disagree. They say that you should correctly employ use and utilize even if you’re a science writer.
If you’re a professional copy editor, op-ed editor, or other kinds of editor, you’ve probably noticed this error among writers. It’s a common mistake that editors are burdened with since only a few people understand the difference between the two words.
Using It in Regular Writing
Overall, regular writers might overuse the word utilize, although it’s not always their fault. Dictionaries just need to stress the distinction between the two.
The definition of utilize is to engage with something to accomplish a task, achieve a goal, or take advantage, but only when the item, process, or situation is employed in a way beyond its intended use.
For instance, if one keeps his life savings in a sock, he may be utilizing the sock as a bank. The intended use of a sock is to cover one’s foot, not function as a bank.
The word utilize carries the connotation of innovation or creative use of an everyday item. If the item being discussed is employed for its intended function, then the word use should be the choice.
The word use may always be substituted for the word utilize, but the reverse is not valid.
Utilize is a transitive verb. Related words are utilizes, utilized, utilizing, and utililization. Utilize is the North American spelling; the British spellings are utilise, utilises, utilised, utilising, and utilisation.
The Bottom Line
You should already know how to use (not utilize) the word utilize, utilizing, or utilized properly. Use is for performing an action on an object based on its typical purpose. Utilize implies creative and profitable use.