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I've long been familiar with crenulated edges, but until today I wasn't aware of crenelated. Looking at the definitions, they seem to describe the same kind of feature, that of notches on an edge that are more rounded in contrast to, say, serrated.

What are the differences in nuances? When would be a "wrong" time to use one over the other?

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Crenulate is apparently the diminutive of crenelate, so you should use crenulated for small things and crenelated for large things. The distinction between large and small is somewhat relative, but for instance leaves are crenulated, battlements are crenelated.

I have generally heard "crenulated" for living things and "crenelated" for inanimate things, but that may be because architectural features are large, and leaf and wing margins are small.

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Crenulate is the diminutive of crenate (having rounded, scalloped teeth), and does not refer to the size of the object but rather to the size of the "teeth": if they're small and fine, use crenulate. Both terms are commonly applied to things in the natural world.

Crenelated is an architectural term meaning "furnished with crenelations", as in the battlements on medieval castles. The crenelations were usually regularly spaced rectangular projections. I suppose you could use the word to describe rounded or irregular projections, but it would be very misleading.

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  • This sounds authoritative. Have you supporting references. though? Mar 2, 2021 at 14:52
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In basic terms, crenellate | crenelate, is a verb, and crenulate is an adjective.

OED:

crenellate | crenelate, v.

Etymology: < French crénel-er + -ate suffix3. The l has been doubled partly after crenelled; partly perhaps after assumed Latin *crēnella, diminutive of crēna.

transitive. To furnish with battlements, to embattle; to furnish with embrasures or loopholes.

1851 T. H. Turner Some Acct. Domest. Archit. I. 157 (note) Laurence de Ludlow had licence to crenellate his mansion of Stoke-Say.


crenulate, adj.

Etymology: < modern Latin crēnulātus, < crēnula , diminutive of crēna (see crena n.) + -ate suffix2. In modern French crénulé.

1. Zoology and Botany. Having the edge divided into minute rounded teeth; finely notched or scalloped: said of a leaf, a shell, etc.

1872 D. Oliver Lessons Elem. Bot. (new ed.) App. 309 Lower petal..3-lobed..lateral lobes usually..crenulate.

2. Geography. Of a shoreline: having many small irregular bays formed by the action of waves on softer rock.

1919 D. W. Johnson Shore Processes vi. 278 Early in the youth of the shoreline the curves will be changed to sharply and irregularly crenulate lines by differential wave erosion... We may call a shoreline of this character a crenulate shoreline.

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