She made a helpful ___________ on my work.

I'm of an impression that remark is casual though comment is more formal. Is it correct? What should the above sentence be considered then? - formal (because it is on someones work and it is helpful too!)

Please provide reasons.

  • 1
    Very little. There is a slight sense that comment may be longer and/or more formal. – Hot Licks Jan 15 '16 at 13:58
  • For whatever reason, the word "remark" doesn't have a "helpful" ring to it. Maybe it's because sometimes there's a slightly negative connotation to "remark," not always. It's very nuanced. Just know that, for whatever reason, to a native speaker's ear, "comment" sounds better there than "remark" here. Sometimes, there isn't a reason. Sometimes, something just is. – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 14:45
  • 1
    Ah, yes, it comes to me now! Comments are "witty", remarks are "snarky". (This is a comment, by the way.) – Hot Licks Jan 4 '19 at 20:41

The difference is very subtle; you can use either word. However, in this particular context "comment" sounds better to my ears. It's hard for me to explain why, though. To me, the word "comment" suggests a thoughtful observation (think of the word commentary), while a "remark" could be a completely frivolous statement.

For example,

She commented on my lack of research.

"What an odd color of paper!" she remarked.

You could instead use remarked in the first sentence and commented in the second. But I think it sounds a little better the way I wrote it.

Unfortunately, it's hard to give anything more than a vague reason. Maybe someone else can give you something more concrete.

  • According to the OED, remark is to say something as a comment, and comment is to express an opinion or reaction. In that way, they mean almost exactly the same, so it is up for ear. – AMACB Jan 15 '16 at 13:32
  • @David Blomstrom : I agree. The two mean the same thing, but in this particular context, "comment" has a better ring to it. I don't think there's a difference in meaning, but in this context with the adjective "helpful," people generally use "comment." I'm not sure that "remark" has a "helpful" sound to it. Why not? Pshhh. – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 14:42
  • Bingo. Note, also, that many online news sites have a COMMENTS section. I don't think I've ever seen a "Remarks" section. And to post this "comment," I have to click a little red button that says "Add Comment." ;) – David Blomstrom Jan 16 '16 at 0:08
  • Did you look at a dictionary for the definitions? – michael_timofeev Jan 16 '16 at 0:48

The words are not synonyms, however in common usage, people don't know the difference and so use them as they see fit, thinking they are synonymous.

Strictly speaking, a comment is a written note intended as an explanation or criticism of a passage in a book. It is a kind of annotation. The word comes from Latin where it means "interpretation."

To remark is to express briefly as a comment. Remarks are spoken:

"What do you think of my hair?" "Looks great," he remarked.

"I hope he takes a long walk off a short pier," he remarked sarcastically.

Comments are longer, usually in print, and interpret and give extra information. They state an opinion and do so in a longer way than a remark. However, comments can be spoken:

"Mr. President, would you mind commenting on today's deal with the labor union?" In this case, the president would not say "It's great." I suppose he could, but at the level of president, a comment should be lengthy and should help people understand something. If the president were to respond "It's great" my guess would be people present would laugh, as they would be expecting something of more substance than a throw away remark. So in the above example, the president might speak for a few minutes. Comments would not be statements about what the deal was, but would be his interpretation of what the deal means, implications for the job market, and why he supports or doesn't support it.

In your example, in my opinion, it would be better to use comment: She made a helpful comment on my work.

If you look online for definitions of these words, you will find many dictionaries that define the words rather loosely, so it is difficult to distinguish the meaning.

  • I liked your answer but could you point to some references where I could crosscheck and get a better understanding too. – Aditya Guru Jan 16 '16 at 23:30
  • The references are the links to the definitions...click on the words. Also, just my experience as an AmE speaker and writer. I also use the American Heritage Dictionary, which has very good definitions. I always go back to this dictionary. Other dictionaries have sloppy definitions but the AHD always helps me understand words. I should point out that you can see from the other answers and comments that no one looked in a dictionary, but also people are generally confused as to the meanings of the words, so in practice you will find writers using the words imprecisely. – michael_timofeev Jan 17 '16 at 1:24
  • @AdityaGuru on most websites you will see the "comments" section, not a "remarks" section... – michael_timofeev Jan 17 '16 at 1:29

Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (1942) places both comment and remark as nouns in a group of similar words that also includes commentary, observation, note, obiter dictum, and descant. Here are the relevant portions of that entry:

Remark, observation, comment, commentary, note, descant, obiter dictum come into comparison when they denote a brief expression intended to enlighten, clarify, express an opinion, or the like. A remark is a more or less casual expression in speech or writing of an opinion or judgment, as of something seen in passing, something read for the first time, something to which one's attention has been called, or the like: the term usually carries no implication of a final or considered judgment; [examples omitted]. ... Comment applies to a remark or an observation made in criticism, in interpretation, or in elucidation of something; [examples omitted].

The updated version of this dictionary—Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (1984)—does not alter its predecessor's discussion of the two words in any meaningful way.

Funk & Wagnalls Standard Handbook of Synonyms, Antonyms, and Prepositions (1947) bundles remark and comment (as nouns) with annotation, note, observation, and utterance:

Remark, annotation, comment, note, observation, utterance

A remark is a saying or brief statement, oral or written, commonly made without much premeditation; a comment is an explanatory or critical remark, as upon some passage in a literary work or or some act or speech in common life.

Evidently, both (or all three) of these dictionaries view remark as being a more extemporaneous or off-the-cuff expression of an opinion or observation, and comment as being a more carefully considered and (perhaps) rigorously argued opinion or observation. This distinction leads me to conclude that Benjamin Harman was correct, in a comment beneath the posted question, to conclude that comment is probably a more suitable word choice than remark to complete the OP's sentence, "She made a helpful ___________ on my work."

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