I have an essay assignment and the prompt looks like this:

Without application in reality, the value of scientific findings is greatly diminished.

My teacher insists that the use of "diminished" instead of "reduced" implies that the decrease in "the value of scientific findings" is a gradual process rather than just one moment.

I am not perfectly sure about this. Although "to diminish" can mean to disappear gradually, but I think the two words mean the same thing. Well, do they?

  • 2
    In practice it's almost never the case that "two words mean the same thing". Your teacher is quite correct, though I suspect few native speakers would be consciously aware of such a fine distinction. Consider a context where you're testing the emissions of an engine; As expected, readings showed that emissions were non-compliant at maximum torque (high rpm). But when we diminished/reduced the rpm and took further readings, emissions were acceptable. I think most native speakers would understand multiple tests at lower rpm values with diminished, but perhaps only one with reduced. Nov 19 '15 at 14:11
  • (But in your specific context, it's unlikely such a nuance would be either intended or understood.) Nov 19 '15 at 14:13
  • Without practical application the value of scientific findings becomes so negligible as to be, to all intents and purposes, nil.
    – Ricky
    Nov 19 '15 at 14:21
  • @FumbleFingers right, I should have been more careful with my wording. The significance of the nuance here is dependent on the specific context.
    – hello all
    Nov 19 '15 at 14:36
  • You also need to specify which flavour of 'implies' you're using. 'Suggests' or 'means'. However, most people would not contest that 'diminished' and 'reduced' are interchangeable in your sentence, and would raise their eyebrows at someone of the opposite persuasion. Nov 19 '15 at 15:08

Although "diminished" can mean what your teacher says, I wouldn't agree that it does in this case. The sense is neutral and is just indicating a simple reduction in value. Webster's also doesn't ascribe any clear sense of "gradual" in its primary definition:

to become or to cause (something) to become less in size, importance, etc.

In this particular case, in other words, I'd say that either "reduced" or "diminished" could be used without any substantive change in meaning.

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