If you can find any difference between "unproductive" and "nonproductive," could you explain that with some illustrative sentences?

  • AFIAK, No, there is no difference.
    – John
    Mar 15, 2011 at 1:02
  • @John, there is a very slight difference in connotation/usage, but I'll be damned if I can articulate it.
    – Marthaª
    Mar 15, 2011 at 1:07
  • 1
    @Martha: I did have that nagging feeling... perhaps 'unproductive' not only means not producing, but actually destroying, where 'nonproductive' means not doing either?
    – John
    Mar 15, 2011 at 1:09

6 Answers 6


Being unproductive implies that something could have been productive but no action was taken. Nonproductive implies that something was unsuccessfully trying to be productive.

John was unproductive and sat around all day watching movies.

John spent three nonproductive hours trying to write a novel.

  • 1
    I believe this answer is more accurate and articulated than mine. Use this one.
    – HaL
    Mar 16, 2011 at 14:15
  • Thank you very much, MrHen and HaL. Your answers are very useful:)
    – user5323
    Mar 16, 2011 at 22:51

There is a difference. Unproductive suggests something that could be useful produces nothing of value. Nonproductive suggests that same something produces nothing useful at all.


Nonproductive=achieving little

Unproductive is when something could be produced but despite the reason (ie: lack of effort, mistakes, laziness) nothing has been produced


I feel Non productive means something which is capable of being productive happens to be not productive, temporarily or otherwise.Or something like an asset which was earlier productive has now turned out to be non productive. On the other hand unproductive means something which is not capable of being productive.


Non-productive: something which could be useful but employed in something which turned out to be of no use e.g.: politicians spending on distribution of gifts to voters. it doesnt help in country's development in any way

Unproductive: something which doesn't prove to be productive but is needed in order to avoid losses. e.g.: expenses incurred on maintenance


Generally, "non-" means "not" while "un" means "the opposite of".

"Non-productive" refers to someone or something who isn't producing the thing that they're meant to be producing, such as a cleaner or cleaning machine who is just moving the mess around but without making it worse.

"Unproductive" refers to someone or something who is producing the opposite of what they should be producing, such as a cleaner or cleaning machine making a greater mess than the one they started with.

It's like the difference between producing zero ("non-productive") or negative ("unproductive") units of a thing.

Admittedly, the two are used interchangeably in practice, but that doesn't mean that it's right to do so. You could say that such people are being unproductive with regard to their use of the term "non-productive".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.