Impair vs impede

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Impair and impede are two words that have similar but definitely different definitions. We will examine the difference in meaning between impair and impede, where each of these words come from, and finally, some examples of their use in sentences.

Impair means to weaken something, to damage something in a manner which harms its ability or function. Impair is a transitive verb, which is a verb that takes an object. The word impair is derived from the Old French word empeirier, which means to make worse. Related words are impairs, impaired, impairing, impairment.

Impede means to obstruct something, to hinder something, to prevent something from fulfilling its potential by delaying or restricting it. Impede is also a transitive verb. The word impede is derived from the Latin word impedire which literally translates to shackle the feet. Related words are impedes, impeded, impeding, impediment. Remember, while both impair and impede refer to thwarting something, impair means to thwart something by damaging it, impede means to thwart something by obstructing it.


A growing body of evidence suggests that high blood pressure may impair children’s cognitive skills, reducing their ability to remember, pay attention and organize facts. (The New York Times)

“Crete established… [that] sleep apnea tends to impair driving skills, increasing [drivers’] risk of motor vehicle accidents by 1.2- to 4.9-fold.” (Overdrive Magazine)

A slower reduction in Argentina’s deficit than initially promised by President Mauricio Macri’s government does not impede a credit upgrade in Argentina, Moody’s senior analyst Mauro Leos said in an interview on Thursday. (Reuters)

Bundy, 41, who’s on trial for conspiring to impede Interior Department workers from doing their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was quickly reminded by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight that he had earlier testified that he was the leader. (The Seattle Times)