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Skeptics argue that these kinds of initiatives are doomed to remain perennially peripheral and ineffectual.

Intuitively, changing ineffectual to ineffective in the sentence above seems to leave the meaning unchanged. Is there any difference between the two options?

Here is the original source of the sentence.

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I don't know why someone voted to close without giving a reason. I haven't yet checked a dictionary to see if there's any clear semantic space between the two words, but certainly I couldn't summarise very briefly the different contexts in which I would use each word. –  FumbleFingers Jul 28 '11 at 14:15
    
...there is also inefficacious, which seems much the same to me, if a trifle "wordy". –  FumbleFingers Jul 28 '11 at 14:18
    
It seems to me that the majority of answers provided are completely ineffectual in resolving the stated dilemma. They could be, however, simply ineffective. –  user65823 Feb 14 at 6:01

5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I tend to think of these as having a slight difference:

  • If something is ineffectual, it is not having an effect right now.
  • If something is ineffective, it has been shown not to have an effect in the general case or the current situation.
  • If something was ineffectual, it wasn't working as of the time context of the sentence.
  • If something was ineffective, it did not work in a particular past situation.

So, ineffectual in my mind refers to the state of it having an effect at a specific point in time, either right now or at some definite point in the past. Ineffective refers to the state of it having an effect in general, or during a given "event" in the past (which may not be given a definite place in the timeline).

Disclaimer: this difference is probably all in my head, it's just my opinion, no research to back it up.

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I agree with what you are saying however it makes me think that ineffectual was the wrong choice in the sentence above. –  Chad Jul 28 '11 at 17:40

I neither agree nor disagree with the fine distinction made by @KeithS, but I think most people will side with OP's "intuition", and think both words "mean" the same.

The biggest effect of changing ineffectual to ineffective is that the sentence would be more "snappy" and "modern". Here's a chart showing the written usage trend...

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It's my guess that in using the older/more established/archaic term, the writer primarily intended to add a touch of gravitas to his text, rather than because it conveyed something subtly different to ineffective (along the lines of any suggestions here, or indeed any others). This I think is a common device in "persuasive writing", which does appear to be the context.

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Ineffectual, in my opinion, carries a more pejorative shade of meaning than the strictly utilitarian ineffective, which means simply not effective. Ineffectual might be synonymous with "vain, useless, futile" while ineffective refers strictly to a specific outcome or aim not being realised.

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I completely agree with Ricardo. "Ineffectual" implies the actor is at fault. "Ineffective" implies fault could be beyond the actor's control. –  user42860 Apr 20 '13 at 0:30

Just as continual means "apparently continuous", perhaps ineffectual means "apparently ineffective".

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Ineffective and ineffectual—both—refer to failure. But only ineffectual refers to the kind of failure that happens when the effort was weak, impotent, and/or incompetent.

  • If a team of great lawyers fail to win a vigorously debated case, their efforts have been ineffective but not ineffectual.

  • If, however, a team of pee-wee baseball players fail to defeat the New York Yankees, their efforts have been both ineffective and ineffectual.

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