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In English, we use the phrase "sheer force" much more often than "pure force" (Google Ngram). And willpower.

What is the difference, in meaning and usage, between the two (and is there a reason for such a discrepancy in usage)?

For instance:

  • Both "sheer force" and "pure force" are grammatical in the following:

    • He overcame his addiction through pure force of will
    • He overcame his addiction through sheer force of will
  • Both "sheer willpower" and "pure willpower" are grammatical in the following:

    • He overcame his addiction through sheer willpower
    • He overcame his addiction through pure willpower
  • You could also use either in:

    • He overcame his addiction through sheer force of habit
    • He overcame his addiction through pure force of habit
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  • I believe they're synonyms in this context. Commented May 12, 2014 at 13:33
  • I guess I'm also wondering if there might be a reason for the huge discrepancy in usage. I'll update.
    – jimsug
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 13:37
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    You're broadening your question enormously, then. Elliott answers for your first usage. Pooja's link, and the further links, address the broader issue of where the words' senses overlap. Commented May 12, 2014 at 13:57
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    Pure does not fit the OP's context at all. The words are synonyms, their contextual usage is not alike. He overcame his addiction through sheer force of will. -- not pure. If at all, He overcame his addiction purely through (the) force of will.
    – Kris
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 14:44

3 Answers 3

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They are synonyms whereas there is a thin line of difference explained here-->http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2571718

enter image description here

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  • I don't find this argument sufficient for the OP's context.
    – Kris
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 14:47
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I think that against sheer will can be more lethal.

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    Welcome to ELU. I'm afraid that this doesn't make a lot of sense as a sentence, and it doesn't look like an answer to the question posed. Could you edit it, and perhaps explain why you think it's useful and relevant?
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 22:47
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I believe that with the word "pure," or "pure force," one usually refers to a religious or philosophical topic. But the word "sheer," or "sheer force," is in reference of brute force, with physical attributes or consequences, like creating an intelligent speech or inspiring an author to write a novel.

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    Where's your evidence for this interpretation? I wouldn't think any of them have primarily religious connotations. Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 0:11

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