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Which word is a better fit in the following sentence?

Some of the environmental changes may produce irreparable/irrecoverable damage to the earth's capacity to sustain life.

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closed as general reference by MετάEd, Matt Эллен, Andrew Leach, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Mitch Oct 10 '12 at 14:49

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
irreprable vs irrecoverable. Please read this post on how to ask good meaning questions. –  Matt Эллен Oct 6 '12 at 20:25
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2 Answers 2

irreparable (OED: "Too far decayed to be repaired; past repair.") describes the level of damage something has sustained. It is damaged so extensively that it cannot be repaired in any way. A car could be irreparable.

irrecoverable (OED: "That cannot be recovered or got back: chiefly in reference to things lost.")describes loss, specifically the ability to revert to a previous state. Data on a hard-drive may be irrecoverable if it has been written over, but there is no sense of damage.

Irreparable and irrecoverable are not synonyms.

If the previously mentioned hard-drive has endured a fire and suffered irreparable damage, the data it contained is very likely irrecoverable, but note that irreparable describes the state of the hard-drive, while irrecoverable describes the state of the information.

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So what will be the correct word in context of damage? –  Sudhir Nov 1 '12 at 17:22
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M-W.com says this:

irrecoverable: not capable of being recovered or rectified : irreparable [an irrecoverable loss]

So they appear to be synonymous. Perhaps you can think of the difference in these two words this way:

  1. The damage cannot be repaired.

  2. The {environment / Earth / ecosystem} will not recover from the damage.

I would use irreparable in your example sentence: Some of the environmental changes may produce irreparable damage to the earth's capacity to sustain life because the adjective modifies damage: once the damage is done, it cannot be undone. The earth's capacity to sustain life will be diminished, and that lost capacity cannot be recovered.

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