Use Vs Utilize

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The words use and utilize are increasingly used interchangeably, but in truth, these two words do not mean the same thing.  We will examine the words use and utilize, where they came from, and some examples of their proper use in sentences. You’ll also learn the right way to use utilize, utilizing, or utilized!

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. 

In most cases, the correct spelling is utilize. Spelled with an S (utilise) is commonly found in the UK. Both are correct. But utilize is more widely accepted.

How Do You Use the Word Utilize Correctly?

Use the word utilize whenyou 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-defence tool. 

There are other meanings for utilize. It can also mean to convert to use or to turn into account. It is also defined as to make useful. For example, you may utilize a ballpen as a bookmark when you’re 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.  Examples:

  • I used a pie chart to show our profit percentages from 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. Examples:

  • 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.  Examples:

  • 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 an object with at 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 substitute utilize for use. But you can’t replace the word use with utilize. That means you can only employ use and 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: I’ve utilized all my phone storage on images and videos.

What is Wrong with the Word Utilize?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the word utilize. But 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 a 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, utililization. Utilize is the North American spelling, the British spellings are utilise, utilises, utilised, utilising, utilisation.

Use vs. Utilize Examples

The cornerstone of the program is a system of bracelets voluntarily worn by vulnerable people that can be locatedusing electronic receivers carried in L.A. County Sheriff’s Department squad cars and helicopters. (The Star Advertiser)

“Personally, I think that this smaller airport here in Schönefeld is also efficient — I’veusedboth, also Tegel, and I’m OK,” one Polish traveler said when asked if he was eager for the new Berlin airport to finally open. (Deutsche Welle)

The system willutilizediverse technologies to increase grid resilience against natural disasters or cyber-attacks as well as autonomously restore power during a blackout using smart inverters. (The Associated Press)

I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to better understand how we canutilize AI to maintain the competitiveness of our nation’s financial services sector and how it translates into building a financial system that works for everyone. (Inside ARM)

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.  

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