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Do the adjectives “reliable” and “dependable” have the same exact meaning?
If not, what is the difference and when is best to use each of them?

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We have a really great post about how to ask meaning questions. It applies equally to difference questions. Please edit your question to better fit those guidelines. –  Matt Эллен Sep 4 '12 at 9:46
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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The OED gives the following definitions of reliable and dependable:

Reliable—1. That may be relied on.

1a. Of a person, information, etc.: able to be trusted; in which reliance or confidence may be placed; trustworthy, safe, sure.

1b. orig. U.S. Of a product, service, etc.: consistently good in quality or performance; dependable.

Dependable—That may be depended on; trustworthy, reliable.

Both definitions list the other word in their definitions, with no special qualifiers attached. In addition, both words use the word trustworthy, also without qualifiers. Therefore, it is safe to say that the two are synonyms and may be equally used.

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Obviously "reliable" means "can be relied upon" and "dependable" means "can be depended upon", but both my Webster's and etymological dictionary give near-identical usages, even using the other as synonyms.

Google Ngram viewer shows "reliable" as far more common than "dependable".

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+1 for the usage statistic, very useful! –  Agos Feb 7 '11 at 11:25
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Reliable and dependable are interchangeable when they refer to things (i.e. a clock), or to oneself vis-a-vis someone else. However, there is a nuance when the terms apply to someone else vis-a-vis oneself. In this case reliable implies a decision to commit oneself to another and to acept the consequences in the event of failure. With dependable, the commitment is not a free choice. (Source: The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language, International Edition, McGraw Hill.)

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"With dependable, the commitment is not a free choice": Really? That distinction is made in your dictionary? –  MετάEd Aug 29 '12 at 6:21
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