"Deprivation" and "privation" seem to have the same meaning: the denial of material essentials or comforts. Isn't the prefix "de-" redundant? Is there a difference, either in literal usage or connotation, between these two words?

  • I think "de-" in this case means that things have been taken from you. If you are in a state of privation, that can occur in many ways, but to deprive is to take away. So a state of deprivation means that you have been denied material essentials, or have had them taken away, while privation doesn't necessarily have that requirement. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 1:07
  • We use the word dehydration even when water isn't necessarily being held back: "Desert travelers are in constant fear of dehydration." This may be an exception, though, as privation already means the absence of things; it may be the redundancy per se that gives "de-" a different meaning.
    – Symantra
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 2:06
  • That might be the case. "de-" has many meanings, one of which, according to dicitonary.com, is "privation": dictionary.com/browse/de- Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 17:10

4 Answers 4


The reasoning that appeals to me here is the sense of "entirely" for the prefix "de-". (Acknowledgements to etymonline.com). Privation might be simply me being separated from my cat for a day. Deprivation would imply that my cat died.

Privation of water from beans is not enough for them to be stored well; they should be deprived of water, desiccated, and then they will store.

Common usage of course has blurred the distinction. Can I be deprived of my rights? I can always get them back at some point if lost; but if the temporary separation from the right results in my death, then the result is extreme.

Since the true meaning of de- is lost in time like tears in rain, this is only one of many possible answers.


From M-W:

deprivation: the state of being deprived

deprived: not having the things that are needed for a good or healthy life

privation: an act or instance of depriving : deprivation / the state of being deprived; especially : lack of what is needed for existence

Based on these definitions, deprivation and privation seem to mean almost the same thing. If there is a difference, it concerns "not having the things that are needed for a good and healthy life" (deprivation) and "lack of what is needed for existence" (privation). From the point of view of life, having to endure privation seems slightly worse than having to endure deprivation.

  • Definitions vary from dictionary to dictionary. I'm interested if there are people who can differentiate when one or the other would be a better choice, though the difference is so slight that it should not matter.
    – Symantra
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 2:04
  • @Symantra I pointed out one such possible slight difference, albeit from a single dictionary (which is actually an advantage compared to looking up one word in one dictionary and the other word in a different dictionary). Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 2:23

My understanding is that Privation is an exclusion without having had anything; whereas Deprivation implies having had the thing in the first place.

In deprivation something is taken away; In privation it is inherent to the makeup of the individual.

  • 1
    Do you have a source to substantiate your understanding?
    – Davo
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 20:14

I've have only seen this word today in an article. So from what I have read I understand deprivation to be short term and privation long term.

  • 1
    Welcome to English Language and Usage. Please take the tour and when you have a moment, read-up in the help center about how we work. Your answer would benefit from linked references to support your claim. Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 20:30

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