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Fluent seems to most commonly refer to language mastery, but in that context isn't it just saying that its delivery is fluid?

If so, am I communicating something different when using one over another or are they essentially interchangeable?

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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I will compare the adjectives fluent and fluid.

The etymologies of the words are shared and so is one of the meanings:

smooth and unconstrained in movement

So, when you speak about movement (literary or as metaphor), it is interchangeable.

Otherwise it is not:

fluent
- easy and graceful in shape
- expressing yourself readily, clearly, effectively

fluid
- characteristic of a fluid; capable of flowing and easily changing shape
- subject to change; variable
- affording change (especially in social status)
- in cash or easily convertible to cash

NOTE: If you read the etymology entry, you will find that fluent was

Used interchangeably with fluid in Elizabethan times.

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So is the difference that both would cover the "flowing" nature of a liquid, but only Fluid would extend to other liquid properties? –  Samuel Hulick Oct 25 '11 at 13:41
    
@SamuelHulick, no. Not the whole difference. Read the answer again. –  Unreason Oct 25 '11 at 14:03
    
Also, I will leave as an exercise for you to compare the definitions of nouns that are made from these adjectives (what your question is really about). The situation changes there. I recommend www.onelook.com –  Unreason Oct 25 '11 at 14:14
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I think linguistic fluency/fluidity provides a bit of an edge case here. The former relates to people's ability to use language well, the latter to the fact that language itself is always shifting. –  FumbleFingers Oct 25 '11 at 17:28
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As a second language teacher, I constantly run into theories about fluidity and fluency. Fluency is a more complicated issue than fluidity. Fluency includes the skill of being able to express specific content (often spontaneously) with ease. Fluidity has more to do with speed of speech, intonation, rhythm. For example, a person who pauses and hesitates a lot would not have achieved fluidity. One can be fluent without being fluid, and one can be fluid without being fluent. Fluidity is more attached to style and delivery, and fluent is more attached to content and ease of communication. Fluidity is often a sub-category of fluency.

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No, they are not interchangeable. You can be fluent in a language, but you can't be fluid in it.

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Dude that was covered in the first sentence of my two-sentence post. –  Samuel Hulick Oct 25 '11 at 13:38
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@Samuel: Dude, you noticed that 'fluent' is mentioned in the context of languages a lot. You didn't say anything about 'fluid'. Barrie is telling you that 'fluid' really is quite a bit more general than fluent (there are contexts where fluent is too specific), and in contexts where language is relevant, you would prefer 'fluent' over 'fluid'. This is despite the obvious fact that there share a lot in their nominal definitions. –  Mitch Oct 25 '11 at 15:44
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@Mitch I did mention 'fluid' - it's the last word of that sentence. I'm asking if saying that someone speaks a language with fluency is the same as saying someone speaks a language with fluidity. Responding that "you can't be fluid in" a language negates the premise and isn't valuable without further elaboration, imo. –  Samuel Hulick Oct 25 '11 at 16:07
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@Mitch The words in the post title are "fluency" and "fluidity". I don't know why anyone would think I'm asking if "fluid in a language" is appropriate. –  Samuel Hulick Oct 25 '11 at 19:29
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@Jay Fair enough. I'm grateful for help, but I don't see how this answer provides any info on what I'm asking. This also isn't the first time I've gotten an answer from this particular user that appears as though they only skimmed the post and dashed out something off-target. Either way, point taken - I will make sure to keep my future SE contributions respectful going forward. –  Samuel Hulick Oct 25 '11 at 19:47
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With respect to language, I would say that you should be fluent in a language before you can be accused of fluid delivery. Fluent means "Able to express oneself readily and effortlessly" (tFD; italics mine). I am fluent in English, but not everything I say is delivered fluidly. The other meaning @Unreason gave ("easy and graceful in shape") does not apply to language mastery.

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