"Usefulness" and "utility" both mean nearly the same thing.

Usefulness: the quality or fact of being useful.

Utility: the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial

To me, the word "usefulness" sounds rather awkward and could raise doubt among some people as to if it's even a word (although it is). On the other hand, "utility" kind of has the connotations of something like a utilities service or a software utility. Of course it would make sense to reword a sentence when it sounds odd, but this questions serves a purpose when one of these two words must be used.

Is one "better" to use than the other? What is the difference between the two words? When should each be used?

  • This is like asking "Which is better to say, knife or fork?" Both are exactly the right word, depending on what you mean to say.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 1:26
  • @Robusto Both words have nearly identical meanings in the dictionary. Forks and knives are both utensils but they are different tools.
    – Keavon
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 1:48
  • 2
    @Robusto's point, I think, was that it is impossible to tell you which is better to use. Better for what? Better how?
    – Drew
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 2:34
  • If you don't like the way a sentence sounds after you've written it, reword it. To see how useful this is....
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 2:56
  • You're task becomes orders of magnitude more complicated if you consider there are many more choices then merely usefulness/utility.
    – user98990
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 3:12

6 Answers 6


To add to what others have said about the connotations -

I would say that:

  • Utility sometimes speaks more to how something is used and what makes it useful. The utility of a swiss-army knife can refer to what you can do with it, and perhaps even how.

  • Usefulness sometimes speaks more to whether and how much something is useful. In the wilderness, the usefulness of a swiss-army knife is generally greater than that of a clipboard.


Utility is used in more practical, concrete expressions.

The utility of the swiss-army knife was demonstrated when he had to cut himself free and then open a can of tomatoes.

Usefulness is for more general, abstract expressions, where the exact means of the utility is a little vague or may be understood in many ways:

The usefulness of this grammatical structure in expressing the concept can be seen in the following paragraph...

The difference is somewhat subtle and hard to explain.


Either of them sound awkward. Instead of writing

"To see the usefulness this provides"

I would write

"To see its use"

I, however, do not know the full context, thus my suggestion may/or may not be applicable.


Though they appear to be similar, there is a subtle difference between both the concepts.

Usefulness is product or object centric, whereas utility is satisfaction or consumer centric. Also, utility is more subjective than usefulness. We usually say "Laptops are very useful" and on the other hand, "I utilize laptops to the best of my abilities".

The law of diminishing marginal utility is another proof of this (those with Economics background would agree with me). Without getting too technical, this law states that the more we consume of a certain product (example: marshmallows), the utility or satisfaction derived from each additional unit decreases.

To simplify, the more we consume of the same thing, we get lesser and lesser satisfaction as we go on. This has got nothing to do with usefulness of that product which always stays constant.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with "usefulness". It is longer than "utility", but more ordinary, and free of the connotation you mentioned about "utilities". I cannot think of any instance where "utility" would be required rather than "usefulness".


I think usefulness is a general term and converse the positive effect of the commodity.Then utility is the power of the commodity,a good or bad to satisfy a want.For example;Water and cigarrettes provide utility but cigarrettes are not useful because they affect human health negatively.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU; your contribution is appreciated. However, you may need to offer some supporting evidence for your theory. It's always a good idea to include cited references, definitions, or examples from reputable sources with your answers.
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 8:34
  • For what it's worth, this blog backs up the claim, when the terms are used in the economic sense. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 11:01

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