In an article I came across the following sentence: "To delimit the responsibility of the police means to delimit human reason" I was just wondering why did the author use "delimit" instead of "limit" in this sentence?

3 Answers 3


Delimiting something is different from limiting it. To delimit is to to mark the limits or boundaries of something; to limit is to restrict, and not to allow to go beyond certain bounds. That is, delimiting entails finding out and setting forth existing limits; limiting entails enforcing bounds.

  • Thank you for the response. According to a web site (thesaurus.com), one of the synonyms of "delimit" is "limit." I decided to ask this question here right after i saw this: thesaurus.com/browse/delimit However, I can clearly see in your response that they are different. Somehow, the difference still seems vague to me.
    – miraz
    Sep 22, 2013 at 5:02
  • I perhaps slightly exaggerate in saying they are “entirely different”. Delimiting overlaps with limiting in some cases. However, they also have distinct areas of use where they don't overlap, and that's what I concentrate on in the answer. Sep 22, 2013 at 5:19
  • So, what if the author used the word limit in this sentence, would it be a mistake? What do you think?
    – miraz
    Sep 22, 2013 at 5:39
  • The definition given by Webster's at thefreedictionary.com/delimit indicates the large overlap possible: to fix or mark the limits or boundaries of. (bolding mine) Collins likewise has: to mark or prescribe the limits or boundaries of. The 'fixing' sense is clearly synonymous with 'limit'. I'd say that this makes the OP's quote ambiguous - logic seems to say that the 'limit' sense is what is meant here. Which would make the author's choice of words poor. Perhaps 'delimit' was chosen to sound a bit cleverer. In which case it backfired. Sep 22, 2013 at 8:41
  • @kiraz : I think as per this definition of delimit : dictionary.reference.com/browse/delimit. The synonym limit is appropriate..
    – Sweet72
    Sep 23, 2013 at 12:14

Delimit - To define a boundary for something.

Limit - Already defined boundary for something.

Take a case when you are defining some new rule, and you are going to set some boundaries/restrictions in it/to it. Then you can say it as DELIMITATION but once the rules are defined and boundaries are set, then rule is said to be in/with some LIMITS.

This is what , i know the difference between the two from best of my knowledge...


To limit looks to me something that is more likely to apply to a single axis and a single direction, i.e. to set or observe a point/measurement that you cannot our should not cross. To limit defines what is below vs what is beyond.

On the other hand, to delimit would be something that apply to a surface or a volume. To delimit defines what is inside vs what is outside.

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