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Which is correct in which contexts?

"My head is disproportional to my body."
"My head is disproportionate to my body."

"My head is disproportional."
"My head is disproportionate."

I have the same question for "proportional/proportionate".

2
  • That they're both adjectives that mean the same thing, but it's unclear to me whether there's a grammar issue with using both with 'to' or not. If they're the exact same word, then why do we have them both? Does one simply 'sound' better? Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 1:29
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    There is no difference in how they are used, but disproportionate is more common than disproportional.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 2:24

2 Answers 2

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Google comes up with 24K results for disproportional vs disproportionate. Quite a battle seems to have been waged on at Berkeley four years ago (see Sources below).

Both words seem to have been in use from the 14th century. Despite the subtle differences in meaning, both seem to have been used quite interchangeably.

Based on the sources given below and based on the the three dictionaries that I just went through, it is safe to conclude as follows (at least in American English):

  • Disproportionate is accepted more than disproportional
  • Proportional is accepted more than proportionate

Cambridge Dictionary lists the following meanings:

Disproportionate (UK): too large or too small in comparison to something else , or not deserving its importance or influence

  • There are a disproportionate number of girls in the class.
  • The country's great influence in the world is disproportionate to its relatively small size.

Disproportionate (US): too great or too small when compared to something else - The sheer size of the company gave it disproportionate influence in dealing with the Pentagon and Congress. - disproportionately: adverb: Unemployment in Iowa is disproportionately high.

Proportional (UK): If two amounts are proportional, they change at the same rate so that the relationship between them does not change

Proportional (US): in correct relation to - The degree of punishment is meant to be proportional to the seriousness of the crime . Weight is proportional to size

Cambridge (online) dictionary does not have entries for disproportional and proportionate.

Sources (other than Dictionaries):

PS: Feel free to share your take and vote either way. If you down-vote, I request that you provide the rationale for it, along with credible sources, for the benefit of the ELU community.

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The only difference is that "disproportional" is non-standard, meaning that it's not considered standard English (at least not standard American English). This really only matters when you are speaking or writing formally.

Standard English is defined by what the majority of educated speakers consider proper. So use 'disproportional' sparingly if you're concerned what others think of you. If you're not concerned with that, it doesn't matter. People will still undertand you.

It should be that something is disproportionate.

When used as an adverb, it can be spelled disproportionately OR disproportionally. Both are standard.

Please note that there are many non-standard words listed in descriptive dictionaries. Don't believe me? Look up irregardless. Irregardles is found in most English dictionaries, but 90% of English speakers (including me) would tell you that it's not a word, however.

You can see from the links below that 'disproportional' is not found in the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, not even under disproportion.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disproportion

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disproportion?ref=dictionary&word=disproportionate

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  • This would-be “answer” is simply wrong, since it is attempting to use absence of evidence as evidence of absence. I have an existence proof for you: the OED contains disproportional as its own headword. As an adjective it is exactly equivalent to disproportionate; as a substantive, it means “A disproportional quantity or number”. Words derived from it include disproportionalness, disproportionality and disproportionally.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 2:02
  • @tchrist public.oed.com/?post_type=page&s=disproportional
    – ZenLogic
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 2:03
  • Real OED: disproˈportional, a. and sb. Etymology: f. disproportion + -al1; cf. Fr. disproportionnel. A. adj. = disproportionate. B. sb. A disproportional quantity or number. Hence disproˈportionalness = next.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 2:05
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    You're pretty rude and obnoxious. Sorry that I don't know how things work here. I only signed up to this site a few hours ago. Give a guy a break.
    – ZenLogic
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 2:16
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    @ZenLogic, welcome to ELU. If you like helping people with their language skills, that's all that matters. Never mind the emotions that this site can sometimes stir up. Keep on sharing your knowledge here.
    – user82373
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 6:21

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