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

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2 Answers

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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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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