English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am writing an article related to the ionosphere and I would like to ask what form of the word disperse is right in the sentence:

A significant majority of the error can be easily removed using two or more frequencies due to the disperse nature of the ionosphere.

I looked at few dictionaries and googled the combination "disperse nature". Here is what I found:

▶adjective: Chemistry denoting a phase dispersed in another phase, as in a colloid. – derivatives dispersal noun,

disperser noun,

dispersible adjective

dispersive adjective.

And for example http://www.yourdictionary.com/disperse-system

disperse system

A disperse system is a two-part system made up of microscopic particles and the medium in which they are suspended. (noun)

Here, if I am not mistaken, the word disperse is used as an adjective.

I am not an English native speaker and I have no sense in this. What is the right form for my sentence?

share|improve this question
Dispersive is the appropriate adjective, but sentence "A significant majority of the error can be easily removed using two or more frequencies due to the dispersive nature of the ionosphere" nevertheless probably is incorrectly formed and should instead say "A significant majority of the error due to the dispersive nature of the ionosphere can be easily removed using two or more frequencies". – jwpat7 Jul 11 '12 at 15:32
Thx : ) I will change it right away : ) – MasterPJ Jul 11 '12 at 16:17
Note, "a significant majority" is redundant; one instead says "much" or "most", "a majority", "a major part", "a significant amount", "a significant fraction", etc. – jwpat7 Jul 11 '12 at 22:49
So the conclusion is: I should take English lessons : ) Thank you for this comment as well, of course. – MasterPJ Jul 12 '12 at 7:10
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I believe dispersive is your best bet:

1: of or relating to dispersion a dispersive medium, the dispersive power of a lens
2: tending to disperse

So you'd have

A significant majority of the error can be easily removed using two or more frequencies due to the dispersive nature of the ionosphere.

share|improve this answer
Oh yeah, that's it! If you Google dispersive nature plenty of scientific articles will pop up: ) Thx! (Now I am a little bit ashamed that I didn't try it before...) – MasterPJ Jul 11 '12 at 14:27

(-) Is the ionosphere, itself, disperse? If yes, then because past participles can be adjectives, I would write "dispersed". ex: "100% distilled water does not have a dispersed nature."

(-) Is the ionosphere not dispersed, but the ionosphere causes dispersion, then I would use "dispersive": ex: "With regard to light diffraction, 100% distilled water has a dispersive nature."

share|improve this answer
Using disperse as in your first sentence is nonsense; to be grammatical it should be one of dispersed, dispersive, or dispersible. – jwpat7 Jul 11 '12 at 15:28
If you don't think that past participles can function as adjectives, then I don't know what to say. – redshoes Jul 11 '12 at 18:39
What I think about past participles is irrelevant because disperse is not a past participle. Per wiktionary, disperse is present tense and its past participle is dispersed. If you have a source to contrary, cite it. – jwpat7 Jul 11 '12 at 18:50
dude. I don't see what you are reading: "100% distilled water does not have a dispersed nature." "Dispersed" modifies "nature". good luck. – redshoes Jul 11 '12 at 18:51
That's not the first sentence. What I meant by "the first sentence" is the question "Is the ionosphere, itself, disperse?". – jwpat7 Jul 11 '12 at 18:55

"Disperse" is a suitable adjective; the opposite of "dense".

share|improve this answer
Hello, JohnH, and welcome to English Language & Usage. You can greatly strengthen this answer by including a definition of disperse (from a recognized reference authority) that reinforces your position, rather than making a simple assertion without substantiation. – Sven Yargs May 21 '15 at 8:16
Indeed--although it may or may not be restricted to a technical usage in physics – SAH Jul 3 at 16:18

I am surprised nobody suggested 'sparse' as an alternate word.

Thinly dispersed or scattered

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.