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Propensity, predilection and proclivity all have the meaning of tendency, so what's the difference? Are they interchangeable?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Predilection means tendency to favor, not just tendency:

a tendency to think favorably of something in particular; partiality; preference: a predilection for Bach.

Propensity and proclivity both just mean tendency:

Propensity: a natural inclination or tendency: a propensity to drink too much.

Proclivity: natural or habitual inclination or tendency; propensity; predisposition: a proclivity to meticulousness.

So while propensity and proclivity are close synonyms, and interchangeable, predilection means something different, and should not be used as a synonym.

There is one major difference between propensity and proclivity, and that is popularity:

Proclivity to me sounds more scholarly than propensity, maybe just because not many people use it.

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I can't exactly agree with your distinction regarding predilection, in that you seem to imply that the thing being favoured is objectively favourable. This certainly wouldn't be the case in, for example, a predeliction for violence, which is perfectly normal phrasing. – FumbleFingers Oct 7 '11 at 17:58
I didn't say that predilection regards something objectively favorable, did I? I didn't mean to, at any rate. OK, I think I see: my quick definition of predilection was ambiguous. I edited. – Daniel Oct 7 '11 at 18:00
Noted. I agree that predeliction at least strongly implies the exercise of actual choice more than the other two. But I hardly think that justifies saying it "means something different". Though it's true that in some contexts this different nuance is significant - you wouldn't say loaded dice had a predilection for double-six, for example. – FumbleFingers Oct 7 '11 at 18:12

Predilection means a natural preference for something. It’s a strong liking deriving from one’s temperament or experience; so when you prefer something, there is a sense of something else that is less interesting or intriguing from your point of view that you might have experienced before or you just don’t like it and you do not prefer. A predilection for Bach, for example, you prefer Bach to Beethoven, or maybe Chopin, because you’ve experienced all of them before or you like Bach more than Beethoven and Chopin because his style suited you and you would enjoy Bach’s masterpieces again and again. Propensity on the other hand, is a natural inclination or tendency. The word doesn’t have a sense of comparison. It can just be a habit that has turned inveterate. For instance, a propensity to drink too much, it means you do it because it might be a habit that is incorrigible. You drink too much, because you like to drink, not because you prefer drink to eat.

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They're essentially synonymous: Proclivity is 'leaning to', propensity is 'nearness to' and predilection is 'preference for'. Worry about something more significant like the misuse of the words irony and disinterest or the mispronunciation of the the words route and forte.

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If you add references to your definitions of these words, it makes the answer a lot better! See here for ways to add links like this one. – Sam Jun 18 '14 at 15:01

I'm not providing any supporting evidence to this claim, but I am simply wondering if anybody uses propensity and tendency in the same way that I do. I've always used propensity to describe something like a more obvious or recognizable tendency, or a person is perhaps more indulgent in some kind of activity than the word "tendency" would suggest, e.g. "he has a propensity for violence" OR "They have a propensity to overeat". Conversely, I use tendency where an action or emotion etc is passive or implicit, e.g. "She has a tendency to forget things". So the way I use those two words personally is significantly different. Does anybody else feel the same way?

P.S. I lied earlier, I will attach some supporting evidence.

Tendency: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/tendency Propensity: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/propensity

When you look at the origins and different definitions of these two words, propensity does seem to have a stronger meaning.

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Welcome to ELU.SE. Please take the Tour to see how Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. Answers should be answers to the original question. Also, don't rely on links to present important information: either summarise the content or quote (and attribute) to avoid link-rot and make things easier for those who read your answer. – Andrew Leach Sep 25 '14 at 6:28

Wikipedia says proclivity implies a liking for something bad. Predisposition, propensity, and predilection do not imply this.

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protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 19:16

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