In this question : Is there a counterpart of "sufficient"/"enough" meaning "not more than the needed maximum"?

In the accepted answer it is given that insufficiently low means (too low). I just wanted to clarify if this is correct or insufficiently low means not low enough (ie too high).

Context : "Perhaps your IQ is insufficiently low to understand that"


2 Answers 2


In practice, the meaning of "insufficiently" followed by a an adjective like low or short seems to be ambiguous and dependent on the viewpoint of the original speaker/writer. As it is an uncommon type of expression, different people use it/interpret it different ways. I would never use "insufficiently low" to mean "too low" myself.

Some examples of conflicting usages of insufficiently in this kind of context:

Neodymium-doped glass had the advantage in wavelength. Furthermore, were 1060 nanometers to prove an insufficiently short wavelength, it was anticipated that the radiation from a neodymium-doped glass laser could be effectively shifted to still shorter wavelengths — green at 530 nanometers, blue at 353 nanometers, and ultraviolet at 266 nanometers — using nonlinear crystals as harmonic converters. In addition, this laser was capable of providing the range of pulse durations and shapes that would be necessary in an experimental facility intended to explore a wide variety of fusion target designs. [...] The carbon dioxide laser, on the contrary, had the potential for high efficiency and high average power, but it was handicapped by its relatively long wavelength.

The Laser in America, 1950-1970, by Joan Lisa Bromberg, p. 240

What are intolerably long hours in one employment, so he holds, may be insufficiently short hours in another ; that overtime employment which must be a hardship to one man, may be a godsend to his neighbour.

(Henry W. Wolff, review of Travail aux points de vue scientifique, industriel et social par André Liesse, in The Economic Review, Volume 9 (1899), p. 553)


This is correct. This is because the thing you're talking about is insufficient for its purpose, not insufficient at being low.

It is also worth pointing out that this phrasing is unclear and would probably confuse most native speakers too at first glance.

  • So insufficiently low = too low ? Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 13:48
  • Yes that's right, although as I mention above (and another comment on the original post) it's a confusing phrasing so I would avoid it altogether if possible. Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 13:57
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    @AkshayAradhya, It's simply a common humorous way of saying that the thing in question is silly / stupid. In English, double-negatives are often used as lame humour. You can ask basic word meaning questions on the great ELL site.
    – Fattie
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 14:14
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    Akshay, "Context: Perhaps your IQ is insufficiently low to understand that" is a wonderfully humorous use. It combines "perhaps your IQ is insufficient" and "perhaps your IQ is too low" into a sentence that anyone would understand (insufficiently low = too low). My three examples in comments above support "insufficiently low = too high" (golf score, income threshold, legally drunk). Good job, Scotland141, +1. Fattie too. Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 15:59
  • @MarkHubbard I have to disagree with that. To me, “Perhaps your IQ is insufficiently low to understand that” quite unambiguously means “You’re too smart to understand that”. Whether that makes much sense is another matter. I cannot see any possible way of parsing it to mean “You’re too dumb to understand that”. Perhaps my IQ is just insufficiently low not to misunderstand it. Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 17:45

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