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The boss asked me the other day whether it's more correct to say

In our business, change is constant.

or

In our business, change is a constant.

Both of these sound perfectly correct to me, which is what I told him; but there's a slight difference in meaning that I just can't seem to articulate. Help?

Definitions, not that they're much help:

constant (noun): a quantity that does not vary
constant (adjective): unvarying in nature; steadfast in purpose or devotion or affection; uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I think if your implication is that change is a given, that it is one of the only constants you see in the business, then you use the noun (change is a constant).

If your implication is that all we ever see is change, change, change, change, change then use the adjective (change is constant).

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Your distinction between change being one of the only constants vs. change being continuous really helped me figure this out. Hopefully, I'll be able to explain it to the boss semi-coherently now. –  Marthaª Apr 27 '12 at 14:26
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"Change is constant" means that change is occurring continuously, while "change is a constant" means that change is an always-to-be-expected condition. The choice between the two terms thus depends on context and what you want to emphasize. For example, if discussing company flexibility, I think one might say "We recognize that change is a constant in this business" (or perhaps rather "We recognize that change is a given in this business").

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When heard in isolation both phrases mean essentially the same thing to me. It's the context you provide which makes the difference. +1 –  Irene Apr 26 '12 at 17:48
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