Given this sentence:

I find (content/contentment) when sitting on a crowded subway train.

or in the sentence fragment:

my place of (content/contentment)

In the dictionary, I see that content (as a noun) means "a state of satisfaction" and contentment means "a state of happiness and satisfaction". Therefore I am unsure of which one to use. Does the difference come down to formality or is there a proper use case for each one?

  • You might try contrasting happy/happiness with content/contentment. "I am happy in my place of happiness", "You are content in your place of contentment". – FumbleFingers Nov 27 '14 at 21:05
  • ...or more relevantly, a few generations ago you might have been merry in your place of merriment. – FumbleFingers Nov 28 '14 at 1:30

Use contentment. The sense of content as a synonym for contentment is no longer in use, except as a component of set phrases like [my] heart's content.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines content (n.) as

  1. something contained, as in a receptacle.
  2. individual items in a publication or document; material that constitutes a document.
  3. a. substance or significance of a work, especially as contrasted with its form.
  4. The proportion of a specified substance: Eggs have a high protein content.

and finally (with a different pronunciation)

Contentment; satisfaction.

The noun content is not often used to indicate the state of being happy.

It is, however, used as an adjective or transitive verb with that meaning, e.g. I am content/he contented himself with one piece of cake.

| improve this answer | |
  • OED doesn't explicitly label the older usage "obsolete", but the only modern context that immediately occurs to me is the fixed expression "to your heart's content". – FumbleFingers Nov 27 '14 at 21:06
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers - I see that that OED entry hasn't been changed since first publication in 1893, with the most recent quotation without "heart's" being from 1842. So maybe that sense was still in active use at the time. – phenry Nov 27 '14 at 21:18
  • contentment is the right choice for the O.P.'s sentence, but if you change the verb find to am, it would be better to use the other noun: I am content when sitting on a crowded subway train. (As a side note, the O.P. might be interested in English Language Learners.) – J.R. Nov 28 '14 at 0:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.