It seems, perhaps obviously, that "construe" and "construct" have nearly identical etymologies. Since that is true, is there a reason--as for "use" instead of "utilize"--that one should use the more minimal "construct" (instead of "construe") at all times?

  • Can you offer us a couple of examples of your own so as to better understand your question? I apologize and have up-voted your question, but I have no idea what you are asking without more information. – Mark Hubbard Dec 3 '15 at 18:32
  • I'm probably oversimplifying here, but I'd chalk up the contemporary differences in the denotation of words when compared to their definitions many years ago to the unpredictable evolution of language. I am tempted at times to object strenuously to people's use of the word "quote" when what they "should be saying" is "quotation." Regardless how strenuous my objections, however, people will continue saying "quote." That's just the way language evolves. As Paul Simon said in his song, "Who am I to blow against the wind?" Don – rhetorician Dec 3 '15 at 18:52
  • Etymology can be a very poor guide to modern usage, as rhetorician alludes to. The very best reason not to substitute "construct" for "construe" (or vice versa) is that they have two totally different and essentially unconnected meanings. In relation to "use" v "utilise", there are only a few cases where the latter is really required. – Cargill Dec 3 '15 at 19:05
  • I'll take your word for it that both words derive from the same "original" (whatever meaning that had, probably in a language that predates English). But currently they have quite distinct meanings, obviously. – FumbleFingers Dec 3 '15 at 19:06
  • I am referring to the many instances in which "construe" is used in a way that seems fungible with "construct" -- and particularly in which "construed" is used to mean, almost exactly, "constructed." (It turns out these are far from all uses of "construe"; I exclude, for example, the use which literally means "to interpret".) Some examples: "The self is an idea construed in response to social influences." "Reality is an artificially-construed notion." "A category boundary construed in response to a lexical item." "How children and young people self-construe following trauma." – SAH Dec 3 '15 at 21:01

Construe is for interpreting meaning or, much less often, to combine words into a grammatical sequence.

Construct has a much wider range of applicable settings, and is centred around the meaning of building. (And indeed, the principal use is in the building of things like buildings).

Generally speaking, we would construct a sentence, and construe the meaning of the already-constructed sentence.

I have never seen construe used in the sense of to construct [a phrase] out in the wild. So the principal reason to use "construct" is that people will fail to construe your meaning, if you use "construe".

  • Thanks! Am I correct in construing your answer as suggesting that "construe" is used too often? That is, in the examples I gave in my comment above, might "construct" be preferable? – SAH Dec 4 '15 at 2:15
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    You are correct to construe my answer! "construe" is not a common word. I have only ever heard it used in the wild to mean "interpret a meaning". If you wish to create a grammatical sentence, use "construct". – Euan M Dec 4 '15 at 3:18

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