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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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2 Answers

up vote 7 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
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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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