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What is the difference between the verbal synonyms "to enhance" and "to improve"? Do they have exactly the same meaning?

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Why the downvote? –  Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 27 '13 at 14:18
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What research have you already done? –  American Luke Feb 27 '13 at 15:15
    
@Luke: I looked on english.stackexchange.com, but nobody had asked that question yet. –  Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 27 '13 at 21:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Using enhance to mean improve in general and, at the same time, to mean increase, is a serious annoyance to people who care about the words they choose to use. M-W online says it means "heighten, increase; especially : to increase or improve in value, quality, desirability, or attractiveness". Academic writers in all fields, however, have jumped on this buzzword and use it to mean so many things that it has no meaning at all now. It's an academic isomorph of nice.

Dictionary.com has a good example sentence of how to correctly use enhance: "to raise to a higher degree; intensify; magnify: The candlelight enhanced her beauty". She's already beautiful, but in the candlelight, she looks even more beautiful. It doesn't improve or increase her beauty: in the sunlight or the lamplight or the floodlight, she's not more beautiful because she stood in candlelight for a long time. The candlelight didn't actually increase or improve her beauty: if she was a 9 before the candlelight, she'll be a 9 after the candlelight. It merely made her look like a 10 while she was illuminated by candlelight.

Like all synonyms, sometimes they're interchangeable, but sometimes they're not. I've begun to hate the word enhance, so I almost always change it unless it's properly used in context.

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I'd prefer to restrict the linguistic-domain usage of isomorphic to 'surface-structurally (though not necessarily syntactically) identical' {eg took the dog a bone; took the dog a walk}, not '(dis-?)functionally similar'! –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '13 at 10:47
    
@Edwin: Fair enough. "X was nice" and "X was enhanced". Okay, so the ADJs are different types and the similarities are dysfunctionally similar to be sure. Can you think of a better word for the similarity? I couldn't and still can't. –  user21497 Feb 27 '13 at 11:04
    
So "enhance" means improve existing features, so to say? –  Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 27 '13 at 11:30
    
@Bill: Analogue works - but it's so general in meaning (most general sense for analogy: 'agreement or similarity, esp in a certain limited number of features or details' - Collins) that one could say analogue is an analogue of nice too. Correlate is a little less general. I suppose we could call the poor overworked words themselves instances of overgeneralisations ( grammar.about.com/od/ab/g/broadenterm.htm ). Or perhaps eleventy-ones - 'Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread'. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '13 at 11:52

They're close in meaning but enhanced implies some existing property or ability has been extended in some way or intensified whereas something could be improved in more general ways.

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In the audit field, we use the term "enhance" when something is in place and generally adequate but it needs a little more to be even better. For example, policies and procedures were in place to manage the risk of rogue trading but it did not say whether it is subject to periodic review and by whom.

We use "improve" when the shortcomings or weaknesses are material and render something inadequate or not up to expectations. Using the same example, the policies and procedures needs improvement because it did not spell out the mechanism to monitor and control trades by traders outside trading hours and off-premise.

To auditors, there is a clear distinction between the two terms.

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To improve is to alter for the better, you remove what is not wanted and add what will make it better.

To enhance is simply to add a feature, you are not removing anything but adding something to make it stand out.

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