The adjective impactful, a late-20th-century coinage, is frequently derided as a meaningless buzzword, but the word is here to stay whether we like it or not, and many people find it useful.

The main gripe is that impactful is illogical because the suffix –ful means full of, and impact is not a quantity and hence can’t fill anything. The problems with this complaint are (1) that –ful also means having the quality of, and that (2) impact bears the secondary sense the power to make an impression, and such power can be a quantity.

Another complaint against impactful is that it tends to take the place of longer-established alternatives such as powerful and influential. While this might be true in some cases, the fact that impactful has become so entrenched in the language suggests that many people don’t find it to be an exact synonym of those words and that it has shades of meaning all its own.

Perhaps the best point against impactful is that it is frequently associated with bad business writing, but this is less and less the case as the word continues to make inroads into other types of writing.


Eliminating guesswork and aimless hunting for impactful eco-trends is a big part of keeping the expo relevant to the green movement. [Los Angeles Times]

It is through impactful experiences, where people are challenged to make sense of their new environment and accommodate to the difference. [The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence]

The wet clay serves as the play’s central metaphor – not a blazingly original one, perhaps – but it is lucid and impactful here. [Sydney Morning Herald]

The company received this award for two of its unique initiatives that are impactfully transforming lives and landscapes in rural India. [Business Ethics: An Indian Perspective, A.C. Fernando]

To answer this question, we can look at four examples from the two most important and impactful forestry activities on the land base. [Vancouver Sun]

The aftershocks of Nicholas Carr’s admirably impactful book The Shallows ripple on, spreading an uneasy suspicion that the internet is corroding our mental faculties. [Guardian]

36 thoughts on “Impactful”

  1. I would argue that the alternative words of powerful or influential are not good substitutes for the seemingly inevitable formation of the word impactful. I would like to highlight the use of impact as it relates to community development organizations in the context of when an organization has impact on the community (this could be anything from impacting the enviornment, youth, healthcare, families). Wouldn’t that organization be impactful?

    It definately wouldn’t necessary be powerful since it could be a small organization with little power but still have impact. It wouldn’t necessarily be influential because it that word is more closely associated with public influence and ability to get lots of people to join the cause and act, not necessarily the case with many community organizations. Maybe effective could be a substitute, but the word effective is more closely linked to overal capability or competency and not to impact.

    So, again, wouldn’t an organization that has strong impact on the community be an impactful organization?

  2. The word is about as silly and unnecessary as, say, “effectful” or “punchful” or “statementful.”  It leaves the same strong impression on me as a mouth full of impacted wisdom teeth.

  3. Hello there,
    If I can share my humble opinion, I am not sure “powerful” works just as well as “impactful” in all situation. An example : I just wrote “an engaging and impactful personality” in my cover letter, I thought it was more subtile than “an engaging and powerful personality”. Powerful here could be perceived as too overwhelming or oppressive…
    Or maybe it is just because I am French, therefore sensitive to language subtleties, often used to have five words to describe each variation of a same thing.

  4. Although the suffix “-ful” technically denotes “being full of” something, in common usage it tends to denote “having the quality of”. Therefore, I don’t think the argument that impact is not a [measurable] quantity adds anything to the discussion. I also think there is a subtle but important difference between “impactful” and “powerful”. In the first example listed above, it would not work to replace “impactful” with “powerful”. “Eliminating guesswork and aimless hunting for impactful eco-trends is a big part of keeping the expo relevant to the green movement. [Los Angeles Times]” –> The sentence discusses eco-trends that have an impact, which is slightly different from eco-trends that are powerful; here is an instance where a richer shade of meaning would be lost if “powerful” were used instead of “impactful”. “Powerful” has its place too, but if overused, could become a bland blanket description for anything that holds weight.

  5. OMIGOD I LUV this site!!! So, I think that “impactful”, as awful and icky as it sounds, is useful among the Power People. “Powerful” indicates a quality, without a necessary result, and while “influential” is truly a synonym, it lacks the violent, physical quality of “impactful.” I still hate it and will never use it. So there.

  6. I will never use it and will instantly hate anyone who does.
    But, languages do evolve and all that…
    So I don’t really have a moral claim, other than the fact that people who say “impactful” tend to be enormous douche bags.

      • “Grammar Nazis” is a term used by people too lazy to learn how to use the language properly. These people then resent those who know how to use the language well.

        • Language is a tool, and one need not employ “proper use” in order to make effective use of that tool. It can also be an art form, and that is where we go from mere “proper use” to something greater. In all of this, there is no place for the grammar nazi, who would rather scoff at misuse than communicate with someone they wrongfully assume is beneath them.

          • I kind of agree with you. One can use the handle of a screwdriver to pound in a nail. It gets the job done, though crudely. I just object to the term, “grammar nazi,” as it is often applied to anyone who uses proper grammar, even in an attempt to educate someone else. Scoffing without assisting, or refusing to communicate, are inexcusable. Using good grammar, though, and even expecting it from others, is neither a crime nor something to be avoided.

        • English is one of the few languages in the World not to have been officially and thoroughly reformed. Chinese, Spanish, German – all were officially reformed by fiat in the past two centuries.

          For almost every rule in English, there are almost as many exceptions. This is because no official body streamlined the language, especially the horrendous ad hoc anarchical spelling that takes so much time from other subjects in school.

          Bough, Cough, Through. There is NO WAY to decipher the pronunciation of huge numbers of English words by looking at them.

  7. The main gripe is that -ful denotes “filled with” and cannot be used with an immaterial noun? How do those people feel about the word “grateful?” Do they only use it when speaking about something that is literally “full of grates?” I won’t even ask about “wonderful.”

    As much as I understand a traditionalist’s aversion to words that have their roots in jargon, I think we can come together with a sensible recognition that the word “impact” has a related adjective to describe things which carry impact, and “impactive” is awkward. There are real gripes with changing language and this is not one.

    • Grateful was derived from the adjective “grate” (which is now obsolete), but which was used to mean “agreeable or thankful”. Therefore grateful meant “full of thanks”. Makes sense, yes?

      Likewise, wonderful means to be full of wonder. Wonder was derived from the Old English word “wundor”, which meant “marvelous thing, marvel, or object of astonishment”. Once again, I don’t see the issue with this making logical sense.

      • I think we are agreeing on the argument? That -ful can denote fullness with an abstract quantity or quality, and therefore is no argument against “impactful”?

  8. People tend to invent words like impactful when they don’t know how to use a perfectly good word that already exists, is established and accepted and is much better suited. Other examples include normalcy, quite ridiculous when normality is the correct word, upcoming instead of forthcoming, obligated instead of obliged, linkage instead of linking and attempting to make any noun in to a verb by adding ize e.g. credibilize and permanentize – really!

    • You should hear how many architects use “spatialize.”

      But, I cannot find a better word for what they mean, so they can have it.

    • Another one is “Technology”. Is the Zoo full of “Biology”? When you pet a cat, are you engaged with “Biology”? Is a Computer Store then full of “Technology” No. So when you use a computer, you are not engaged with Technology.

      -ology is the study of. Checking facebook or using Word is not studying.

    • It’s OK, tiger, it’s more than OK. In fact most of English is loan words anyway so why not borrow the whole family? Ex: viable from Latin. Romance languages have the verb to viabilize, English should have it too. Another one is availabilize, i.e. to make smth become available…..

  9. I’m definitely no grammar nazi (obsesed with verb tense shift in reggae music), but this one drives me crazy. Primaiy, because when I hear impact/impactful
    is in confusion with “affect”. As in: “The weather affects/impacts baseball more than any other sport.” Which usually means the speaker doesn’t understand the difference between “affect” and “effect” either. That, and corporate empty suits use it all the time.

  10. IMPACTFUL is here to stay.

    Something may be so INFLUENTIAL that it causes one to “think” but not necessarily act or be emotionally or physically moving.

    Something may be POWERFUL yet be utterly lacking in its ability to move a person emotionally or physically. (e.g., a parked muscle car may not impress you at all, Despite having 500 hp, some people could care less. Power, is a static concept and, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.)

    Something may be influential, but not cause you to weep; powerful but not cause you to shudder… impactful is different.

    IMPACTFUL connotes the dynamic sense that the recipient is or will be forcefully affected – almost in a concussive manner – to react in some meaningful way (e.g., emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually, etc.).

    As for “hopeful”, “wonderful” or “grateful” and the like, I’m not sure of how or where they are “filled up” or by what scale they might be measured. Perhaps by those same lousy business writing marketer performing consumer surveys on ranking scales from 1 to 10, only to later publicize their impactful findings! :-)

  11. “Impactful” = “Incentivize” = “Orientated” = garbage words. I care not that Merriam-Webster’s lists them. I care not if they are used in common speech. Extra syllables do not render words more meaningful. Nor do they render a speaker more clever (or “cleverer”).

  12. Way late to the discussion here, but I’d like to interject why (in my observations) “impactful” came into being.

    As someone who has been a business writer many years, I’ve seen how “impactful” has mutated from the use of “impact” as a verb (“That will impact the bottom line.”). I noticed it in the mid-90s when business folk were either too lazy to find a suitable word (“effective,” “important,” etc.) or, more important to note, were unsure of the validity of their claims.

    “His impactful presentation will change how you look at corporate finance,” in one such instance I remember from way back. Instead of just saying that the presentation will change how one views corporate finance (that sounds suitably strong on its own) the use of “impactful” is designed to make it sound more business-like, and thus, a better presentation than it actually was.

    I spoke to the person who made the presentation, and he admitted to me as much; the speaker was insecure about his point of view, and used “impactful” in the title just to make it “sound stronger.”

    To me, that’s the distinction between “impactful” and other words that come into being. “Impactful” is like “collateral damage” or “enhanced interrogation,” which do not reveal the truth but purposefully obscure it.

  13. I don’t see the difference between impact and power in terms of quantity. Both can have greater or lesser, can’t they? The word impactful is abrupt and doesn’t flow as aesthetically as powerful but if I want to convey the essence of impact, I won’t use power instead!

  14. I was hoping it wasn’t really a word. Definitely an MBA buzzword. Now, if we could only get people to stop advertising that they can help you grow your business. AHHHH, that makes me want to scream when someone utters that. You grow turnips, not a business.

    • Language is inherently symbolic. Using language to illicit or connote a specific image is acceptable and celebrated. It is not your place to choose how an artist holds her brush.

      Do you see what I did there? I’m talking about words by discussing paint! How maddening.

  15. Adjectivifying nouns may have an positive impact on one’s perceived hipitudinousness, but can leave a negative perception of the clearfulness of Microsoft’s other communicationful documention. I myself shiver at the utter nowfullness of Mr. Softee’s commericiality loaded offerings.

  16. There are so many words you can use instead. Real words. Say that something “had an impact, made a difference, had a profound effect, changed your outlook, influenced outcomes, caused change, revolutionized, tipped the scales, and challenged the status quo”. Or that it was/is: dynamic, innovative, thought-provoking, affecting, effective…just off the top of my pointy head. Come on.

  17. This ugly word, impactful, derives from the rampant misuse of impact as a verb in place of affect. The language is not necessarily evolving; rather, it is devolving. I had to sit and listen to a woman drone on in public relations/corporate buzzwords last week and walked away without having any idea what she was talking about. People need to stop trying to reinvent the language to make themselves sound hip and trendy, and, instead, use the language in a way that makes them sound intelligent.

  18. Colons and wisdom teeth become impacted. That’s it. The end. Stop making up words because you are too lazy to find the existing word that means what you want to say. Move on.


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