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I'm really curious as to know when you'd use participancy over participation. Right now Chrome is telling me that participancy is wrong and not a word. I always believed it to be a word and it is in http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/participancy as a word. Would someone be able to help clarify the difference between to two and some usages. Apologies if this is an obvious question, first post here.

Just to update you. I am a native uk english speaker. Thanks for your answers so far

  • If you follow the links for -ancy and -ation, the dictionary says they can both be used to form an action, in this case, the action of participating. It looks like both are correct, though in my experience participation is more frequent – blgt Nov 13 '14 at 17:57
  • As a native US English speaker, I've never heard the word, but I would expect it to mean "(the set of all) participants" (like "constituency"), not "participation." Though the few places it is defined seem to disagree on that. Another reason not to use it. – Kevin Nov 13 '14 at 18:52
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Unless you're a native speaker and you know why you want to use the relatively uncommon participancy, just don't. But personally I think it's the preferred option in OED's final example under the definition...

participancy n. the fact or quality of participating in something.

1988 Science New Ser. 28 Oct. 604/1 The universe starts small.., grows.., and in time gives rise..to observer-participancy — which in turn determines all we have the right to say about even the earliest days of the universe.

The reason I prefer it there is because the reference is to all "participations" collectively, by any and all participants who meet the implicit criterion of being [sentient] observers. The context isn't about any particular participation - rather it's about manifestation of an ability to participate.


A similar distinction arises with occupation, occupancy (in respect of living in a property, for example). In that case both words are relatively common, but the latter often has a more "general" sense, and may thus be more suitable in certain contexts.

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  • thanks for a great answer. All the answers were good. But I found this the most useful. – Jonnny Nov 14 '14 at 17:45
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I think this graph tells you the whole story. Unless you have some very good reason to use participancy, use the word people actually know.

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As a UK English native speaker and professional copy-editor, I had never encountered 'participancy' before reading this post. I'd strongly advise against using it.

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    As a US native English speaker (not a copy-editor but highly educated), I'd never encountered it either. – Kevin Nov 13 '14 at 18:50
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Participancy is not a general synonym for participation in current usage; it isn't in ODO, MW, AHD, or CDO, and its appearance in Google NGrams is vanishingly rare.

Where it does occur in post-1900 usage, it appears to be a term of art used in certain fields, where it is used to distinguish a particular concept of participation from the general sense of it. For example, there are many quotations and misquotations of the physicist John Wheeler, who used the tern observer-participancy to describe the relationship of observer and information:

No elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed (or registered) phenomenon.

Many of the stray references in web search results come from the realms of philosophy, cosmology, information theory, law, psychology, and so forth, and most of these in turn seem to borrow from Wheeler's usage. Others are found in discussion forums, and I am inclined to ascribe them as to nonnative speakers.

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