Homogenous vs. homogeneous

Homogeneous means (1) of the same or similar nature, and (2) uniform in structure or composition. Its corresponding noun is homogeneity. Homogenous, whose corresponding noun is homogeny, is a little-used biological term whose old sense has mostly been lost. Today, it’s primarily a variant of homogeneous in general usage, though it still has uses in science, where spelling it any other way would be considered an error.

Though some careful nonscientific writers continue to try to keep the words separate, it is a lost cause in popular usage. And the change is not new; people have been using homogenous in place of homogeneous throughout the English-speaking world for at least a century, and homogenous is now several times more common than homogeneous outside scientific writing, so trying to preserve the distinction is probably a losing battle.


Though homogenous is now more common than homogeneous, the latter still appears fairly often—for example:

The Arab world is not at all homogeneous and responses to unrest will play out very differently in each country. [Telegraph]

Complex fluids can be considered homogeneous at the macroscopic (or bulk) scale. [Physics]

But unlike the homogeneous Apple iPhones, there are many different flavors of Droid. [GCN]

Finding examples of homogenous used in its traditional sense is almost impossible. Searching the web, we mostly find examples like these:

Kiss Each Other Clean is much more focused and homogenous, but there’s still a lingering sense of abundant inspiration, eager to carry the songs off to different lairs. [The Independent]

Research has also proven that well-led diverse groups are better at problem solving and homogenous teams run the risk of “groupthink.” [Huffington Post]

After getting some flack for a rather homogenous cover of white actresses last year, Vanity Fair’s new Hollywood issue is mixing things up. [Gawker]

19 thoughts on “Homogenous vs. homogeneous”

  1. Well explained. Another from the BBC today:

    ‘The euro has a homogenous monetary policy’

    With the technically incorrect usage so prevalent, you have to wonder whether ‘homogenous’ can now be considered to have the meaning of ‘homogeneous’. Almost everyone seems to think so – so I suppose that’s all that’s required in an evolving language.

  2. Someone corrected me during a JOB INTERVIEW on these two words. Big oops. I didn’t get the job, but I never forgot the grammar lesson.

  3. I question whether it’s correct to say (quoting from the above entry) “homogenous is now several times more common than homogeneous outside scientific writing.” A Google search for homogenous produces 6 million hits (and change), while searching for homogeneous produces some 25 million. This statistic throws the veracity of the quote into question.

    Also, the word apparently comes from the Greek, and an early evolution from Greek to English would be homogenes or homogenus, and eventually homogenous. Homogeneous, then, would be a variant of homongenous, and not the other way around.

    I realize that modern dictionaries tend to treat homogeneous as the primary term (for example, running the definition there) and homogenous as a variation (as in “see homogeneous”). I believe this evolution in dictionaries took place because of the widespread adoption of homogeneous among the populace, even though technically it may have initially been incorrect.

      • Re: AA –

        Sexy? Perhaps. I can’t see him or her here.

        Of good intentions and very close to accurate? I believe so.

        Perfect? If the usage of ‘homoNgenous’ to defend the arguably more popular homogenous is any indication, no.

        Keep seeking the ‘write’ answer. I must.

        Be well, all!

    • Merriam-Webster says that the first known use of “homogenEous” was in 1641, and for “homogenous,” 1919. I think that shoots down your theory.

      • …or the reliability of Merriam-Webster… written (initially) by one man whose intention was to “standardise” American English and “simplify” its spelling.

        • “Homogenous” was not in the first edition of Webster’s dictionary (1828).

          Just for fun, I checked American Heritage 4th ed: no dates on terms. Also checked New Oxford American 2nd, which reports early 17th century for “homogenEous” and late 19th century for “homogenous.” Finally, checked Random House 2nd Unabridged, which gives 1635–1645 for “homogenEous” and 1865–1870 for “homogenous.” So, M-W’s source for the latter is a bit later than NOAD and RHU, but otherwise the dictionaries roughly agree.

          OP’s theory still shot down.

  4. “Alternate jury” may be incorrect, but not because of the difference between alternate and alternative. The legal term of art is “alternate juror”, an individual in reserve which can replace another jury member, and then be replaced again if necessary by the original juror. It is rare that an entire jury is replaced, but even if they were, it would be individually rather than as a whole. The phrase that should have been used was “alternate jurors”.

    I’ve also heard of alternative jazz, but not alternate jazz. Unless, of course, you have two jazz bands jumping in and out of a song. Maybe it’s just me, though.

  5. I wonder if the erroneous substitution of homogenous for homogeneous is in any way linked to the introduction of and widespread familiarity with homogenized milk, making the accented second syllable seem natural, even perhaps correct in all variations of the word.

    • Agreed- since most people know the word ‘homogenized’ as a small child, and later learn that it means made homogenous or homogeneous, it makes sense that the former would “sound right” – esp. vs. ‘homo-genius!’

      I also wonder if there could be a British vs American difference as with aluminum and aluminium.

      • As a Brit, I feel that homogeneous is much more common. The reason I found this discussion is that a TV
        presenter used homogenous – and it grated so much that I had to look it up.
        I think the comments below about where the stress is placed may indeed result in a British/American difference, since British schools continued teaching Latin/Greek much later than American, and so the tendency to regard “homo” as a prefix would put the stress on the third syllable, making it much easier to incorporate the “E”.

    • Yes, I made the same argument. I think the pronunciation of “homogenized” carries over to a lay speaker seeing “homogeneous” as a four-syllable word, and thus, applying the English stress pattern of stressing the 2nd syllable of a four-syllable word, which then, causes the speaker to omit the “e” in the -eous ending. The opposite happens in words like “mischievous”, which many speakers mispronounce as “mischievEous”. It’s a lapse and laxity in grade school education that I think is the cause for inconsistent and erroneous pronunciation to persist so widely.

  6. From my observation, “homogenous” is often (mistakenly) used by non-scientific persons who want to apply a veneer of scientific credence to whatever they’re saying, when in fact, they mean to say “homogeneous”. I surmise it’s due to usage of “homogenized” that people apply the stress on the 2nd syllable of “homogeneous”, which then, causes an omission of the “e” in -eous. The stress on the 2nd syllable falls in the pattern of four-syllable words (see “demonstrative”, “invalidate”, etc.), not five. This is pronunciation error is the opposite to the tendency for lay speakers to add a vowel before -ous ending, such as: “mischievous” being mis- and mal-pronounced as “mischievEous”. All I can say is English education is so inconsistent and lax in grade school that multiple ways to pronounce a single word persist.


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