Exploitative vs. exploitive

The preferred form of the adjective meaning tending to make use of selfishly or unethically is exploitative, not exploitive. This preference is shown across all main varieties of English.

Exploitive may seem breezier and more efficient, but English often flouts economy when it comes to the -tative and -tive suffixes. A few dictionaries accept exploitive as an alternative spelling of exploitative, but most correctly acknowledge that the latter is the far more common form.

The following ngram, which graphs the use of exploitive and exploitative (as a percentage of all words used) in a large number of English-language works published in the 20th century, shows that the longer form is now preferred by a huge margin:

Exploitive Vs Exploitative English


Edited publications generally prefer exploitative to exploitive. In current news sources, for instance, the ratio is about 20 to one. Here are a few examples of the word in action:

So here we have an exploitative company, Verizon, channeling its income to another corrupt partner in Britain, all in the name of avoiding taxation. [The Nation]

She covered exploitative sales techniques used by funeral directors, such as the meticulous arrangement of coffins to exploit the most from consumers. [Guardian]

No more Picktons and no more exploitative pimps. [Winnipeg Free Press]

First, commercial surrogacy can be exploitative because the contracting parties are not always free and equal. [Sydney Morning Herald]

28 thoughts on “Exploitative vs. exploitive”

  1. Thanks! I just read Nicole Kidman’s take on Eyes Wide Shut and she describes it as not being”exploitive” — I didn’t think that was the norm and I was right! :)

  2. I agree that more people do say “exploitative”, but I find extra and unnecessary syllables undesirable and personally hard on the ears. “Competency” instead of “competence” is another example. There are lots.

      • OK you can have Exploitative, but do you also say Preventative? I’m much older than two, but I do have a two-year-old who has no need for three syllable words. She can shorten any word down to two, and gets along just fine. It’s kind of refreshing actually.

        • Sorry this took so long, but yes, I use preventative. The fact that you use and support the shorter, easier words makes me assume you’re under 30. People born in the 90’s tend to have a “gotta have it now” mentality. Little to no work for grand, immediate rewards. That goes for speaking and writing as well. Stupid slang words made up while binge drinking, and short-hand slang used in texts. I’m doubtful you even know how to compose a proper hand-written letter.

  3. I decry the bastardization of the English language that is rampant today. This is one example. “Exploitive” is perfectly fine; the addition of an extra syllable is useless, cumbersome and hard on the ears. Likewise, I detest the movement toward changing spellings for simplicity, at the loss of grammar logic, a prime example being “canceled” for cancelled or “traveler” for traveller. OK, I feel better now…

    • We understand your feelings, but they might be misplaced in this case. “Exploitative” is certainly not a new form and not just a bastardization of the shorter form; it is in fact the original and has been more common from the very beginning. There has never been a time in which “exploitive” was anything more than a less common variant.

      There is much precedent for both. It’s not something to get worked up about, in our opinion. English’s beauty and versatility would be much diminished without this sort of messiness.

  4. More people may use the latter form, but we should not accept that as the sole criterion for using it. The majority of people on earth once thought the earth was flat, and that the sun rotated around it as well. Exploitive it is!

  5. Nicole Wallace just used exploitive on The View and it struck me as odd. It didn’t sound correct. Thanks for clarifying this.

  6. Nope, disagree. Just because the ignorant misuse outnumbers correct usage 20 to 1, doesn’t mean that it’s the “proper” term. The root word is “exploit.” Its adjective form should be “exploitive.” There is no “exploitate.” “Exploitative” adds “tat” with no basis.


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