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I have always used quantify, but have been encountering quantitate more and more in scientific literature. Is quantitate a "valid" verb and a synonym for quantify? Otherwise is there a subtle difference in the meaning of these two words?

I forgot to mention that in some dictionaries both words exist while in others, quantitate is not featured, e.g. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/spellcheck/british/?q=quantitate

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quantitate. So, in a word, yes. –  Matt Эллен May 20 '13 at 11:52
    
@MattЭллен I have checked oxford dictionaries, just as well as a couple of others. quantitate is featured on some, and not on others. –  posdef May 20 '13 at 12:02
    
I think you should read this question and its answer to get a better understanding of how language works. –  Matt Эллен May 20 '13 at 12:06
    
@MattЭллен so what you are suggesting is that quantitate is a word that is most likely in the process of establishing as a synonym to quantify, and that it doesn't matter whether or not it is right originally, as long as enough people adopt it into their language? –  posdef May 20 '13 at 12:10
    
I would go further and say it is a word that is a synonym for quantify because enough people have used it that it has made it into the OED (and by extension Oxford Online Dictionaries). –  Matt Эллен May 20 '13 at 12:13
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Valid word is a difficult thing to quantify. As I've said before, a word exists as long as people use it.

You say in your question that you have read it in literature, so therefore we must conclude that it does exist, and, given the context of its use, is a synonym for quantify.

The meaning according to OED1 is a synonym for quantify, chiefly used in biological or medical contexts, so I feel quite sure that its use is typical.

quantify vs quantitate ngram

As can be seen in the above ngram, quantify is more popular than quantitate, but quantitate's use is not insignificant in proportion.

The main difference between the two words is that quantitate is (i.e. can be) used to mean "to perform quantitative analysis upon", which is not really synonymous with quantify. Also, I think it's fair to say, outside of scientific literature, you are unlikely to encounter quantitate.

(1): "quantitate, v.". OED Online. March 2013. Oxford University Press. 20 May 2013 http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/155922?redirectedFrom=quantitate.

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Nice answer, and thanks for introducing me to ngrams using Google Books (was not familiar with it from before). I am a little reserved about "it is used therefore it's valid" idea, since it disregards the bad use of language in literature which happens... Otherwise thanks for a great answer –  posdef May 20 '13 at 13:14
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I believe this is one of the first uses of the noun quantitation by Arthur Ellis Esq in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Sep., 1888), pp. 567-598:

I VENTURE to use this word " quantitation " as one which will be readily understood by the Statistical Society, if not by the outer world. It is among objects of the Society, while remaining unsatisfied with bald facts or conclusions, or classification is, to find out " how much " and to what extent facts are facts, or, in other words, to test the meaning of facts. "Quantitation," therefore, expresses in one word-which may be an ugly one but is never-the-less a useful word-what we aim at in an investigation before the notice of the Society. (There is the word " quantification," used by writers on logic, including Sir William Hamilton, applied to the predicate. I remember a student of logic calling this word an invention of the enemy for the confusion of the understanding. Precisely because it applies to logic and not to statistical facts, I am disinclined to use it, and it contains one more syllable which, although one more or less among so many may seem to be no matter, is a disadvantage.)

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