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 '11 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 '11 at 1:07
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    @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 '11 at 1:09

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.

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    I believe this answer is more accurate and articulated than mine. Use this one. – HaL Mar 16 '11 at 14:15
  • Thank you very much, MrHen and HaL. Your answers are very useful:) – user5323 Mar 16 '11 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".

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