Sometimes I go through articles and find the expression utilize, I've always been wondering if there are special cases in which it should be used instead of used.

Also because google ngram clearly shows that used is used (sorry for that ;D) much more.

Thanks for your help and happy new year!

  • 3
    A Google Ngram doubtless shows that 'utilise' is used far more often than 'myristicivorous', but there are times when the latter is the better choice. // Have you contrasted dictionary definitions of your two words? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 31 '13 at 7:48
  • Always prefer utilize in business correspondence or, more generally, whenever you're trying to make yourself sound more intelligent. It's just so much sexier than writing use - ugh! Gross! – Yuck Nov 14 '16 at 18:47

Some dictionaries gloss utilize as using something for a purpose that it is not normally employed for. But prescriptive grammarians are pretty clear on such use. Fowler in Modern English Usage (p670) says:

If differentiation were possible between utilize and use it would be that utilize has the special meaning of make good use of, especially of something that was not intended for the purpose but will serve. But this distinction has disappeared beyond recall; utilize is now ordinarily treated as a LONG VARIANT of use. A form is enclosed herewith for favour of your utilization is an example of the pretentious diction that prefers the long word.

Partidge in Usage and Abusage (p343) is typically blunt:

utilize is, 99 times out of 100, much inferior to use; the other one time it is merely inferior.

And here is the more contemporary Grammar Girl's similar take on the issue: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/use-versus-utilize

Nevertheless, this Usage Note from TheFreeDictionary indicates when utilize might indeed be the better choice:

A number of critics have remarked that utilize is an unnecessary substitute for use. It is true that many occurrences of utilize could be replaced by use with no loss to anything but pretentiousness, for example, in sentences such as They utilized questionable methods in their analysis or We hope that many commuters will continue to utilize mass transit after the bridge has reopened. But utilize can mean "to find a profitable or practical use for." Thus the sentence The teachers were unable to use the new computers might mean only that the teachers were unable to operate the computers, whereas The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers suggests that the teachers could not find ways to employ the computers in instruction.

  • I completely agree with the last section when we're talking about academic writing. Scientific writing, for instance, already has far too many polysyllabic words, and could do with fewer. In other types of writing, maybe utilize would make a sentence with a lot of short words sound a little better. – Grubbmeister Nov 6 '18 at 6:27

This comment in ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ is as good as any:

. . . for some writers utilize still connotes something more than use, i.e. the implication that a resource has been turned to good account, and used in a profitable, effective or ingenious way:

They utilized water from a nearby stream to cool the engine.

This subtle extra dimension of utilize is unfortunately jeopardized by pretentious use of it elsewhere.


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