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Is there any difference in usage between inconclusive and non-conclusive (nonconclusive)?

inconclusive is more popular in research compared to non-conclusive, using PubMed search, 20,872 and 260 respectively. (nonconclusive gives 117 hits).

Thesaurus doesn't list them as synonyms.

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    I have never come across non-conclusive, and it isn't listed in the popular dictionaries. I think that your hit counts say it all.
    – Mick
    Mar 21, 2017 at 12:20
  • @Mick same here, never seen non-conclusive until recently, and looks like it is used "rarely" in research papers, hence the question.
    – zx8754
    Mar 21, 2017 at 12:29
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    I think that one difference is that "inconclusive" can have a slightly pejorative flavor in some contexts, whereas "non-conclusive" would avoid that.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 21, 2017 at 12:41
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    @HotLicks - I'm not convinced. Can you present something persuasive? Mar 23, 2017 at 5:32
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    "Inconclusive" to me means that the jury is still out -- we don't have enough evidence to draw a conclusion. "Non-conclusive" expresses a judgment of the value of the evidence or the argument. If I reject a piece of evidence, or an argument, in other words, if I want to say that it is not sufficient to lead to a particular conclusion, then I could say that it is "non-conclusive." But I've never said that. I say things like "the argument doesn't hold water" or "is not persuasive" or "the evidence cited does not support the proposed conclusion," etc. Mar 23, 2017 at 5:35

2 Answers 2

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Inconclusive - According to Merriam Webster, Inconclusive means:

  • leading to no conclusion or definite result

Neither Merriam Webster nor Oxford Advanced Learners list non-conclusive (or nonconclusive) as a word. So it's most likely that non-conclusive isn't a regular English word (I have never heard of it), rather it is a specialized word used in particular academic or professional disciplines.

From a quick google search I can see, most of the hits that non-conclusive got was from poorly written articles, in many cases from foreign writers. So, even if some people used it as a hyphenated compound word to express the same meaning as inconclusive, it is redundant (and a bit in poor taste.)

Non-conclusive does have some specialized usage as I mentioned. There is a Non-conclusive verb in the progressive tenses. The term was most likely first used by A.S Hornby in his articles and papers in the 1940's and 1950's. These are now generally known as Stative Verbs. Non-conclusive Verb [Journal link]

There is also Non-conclusive Judgment in law. Law-Dictionary

These are the only few usage that I came across. There might be more specialized used in particular fields. But if I wanted to express something that "is leading to no conclusion/definite result" I would stick to inconclusive.

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  • But the words don't mean the same thing. "Inconclusve" means the result of a question or investigation did not yield a conclusive result, whereas "Nonconclusive" means an event or discussion did not lead to a conclusion and is still open-ended. It's a nuanced difference but definitely a real difference.
    – Ben Lee
    Aug 17, 2021 at 16:51
  • @BenLee, is that a real difference? Saying that a particular argument is inconclusive, always leaves it open that some other argument for the same conclusion will be found in the future and that it will be conclusive.
    – jsw29
    May 23, 2022 at 18:07
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The Oxford on-line dictionary gives two principle meanings of "conclusive". These are

the end or finish of an event, process, or text

and

a judgement or decision reached by reasoning.

Broadly, inconclusive is commonly used in opposition to the second meaning. We say that the evidence was inconclusive, meaning that it was insufficient to allow a definite judgement to be made. The meeting was inconclusive if no decision could be made.

Non-conclusive is in opposition to the second meaning. Something is non-conclusive if it is not the end of the matter.

As Rio1210 has identified non-conclusive is used in law regarding a judgement that is subject to appeal. The decision of the court is non-conclusive because it is not the end of the matter, or not necessarily the end of the matter.

The meeting came to a decision, but it is non-conclusive because it still has to go to the board.

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  • So, is there a difference in meaning between the two or not? What you say about them leaves an impression that their meanings are the same, but you don't say so explicitly.
    – jsw29
    May 23, 2022 at 18:03

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