I know that the expression "to measure something quantitatively" is commonly used, especially in contexts that refer to things that are not conventionally quantifiable. For example, when discussing how to develop metrics for expressing customer satisfaction numerically. I am, however, wondering about this usage in technical writing.

I am editing a paper that describes a chemical test procedure, in which the author has written “the technician should quantitatively measure the concentration of metal ions in the test chemical solution prior to performing the next step.”

Now, this doesn’t strike me as wrong, but I can’t help wondering if the adverb quantitatively serves any real purpose in this sentence, particularly when it is clear from the context that the concentration will be expressed in parts per million.

So, would anyone disagree with me that "quantitatively" could be stricken from that sentence without any real loss of clarity? Given such a context, can anyone provide an example of a substantive difference in meaning between “to measure something quantitatively,” “to measure the quantity of something,” and “to quantify?”

  • I suppose one could measure things qualitatively (say, "a lot" vs "a little"), but I'd consider measure on its own to imply quantitative.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 28, 2018 at 9:42
  • @Lawrence Measuring (in the default sense used in science) aims at (but never achieves) precision; I'd use 'estimate' there. Mar 28, 2018 at 11:40
  • @EdwinAshworth In a lab-test procedure, I expect measure to be the idiomatic term. What I'm wondering, though, is the author's intention behind modifying measure with quantitatively. Perhaps they were trying to emphasise the precision of the measurement.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 28, 2018 at 14:23
  • Thanks to you both for you comments and answer. I, too, always wonder about the author's intention when I see this collocation, which is not uncommon in technical literature. And since part of my job involves explaining to engineers and scientists why their English isn't clear, I was interested to hear what other writers thought. Mar 28, 2018 at 22:44

1 Answer 1


There is a problem in asking this question on a non-scientific site as 'measure' has many acceptable (and related) but sometimes conflicting definitions.

Taking just these two senses given by AHD:

1a. To ascertain the dimensions, quantity, or capacity of: measured the height of the ceiling.


2a. To estimate by evaluation or comparison: "I gave them an account ... of the situation as far as I could measure it" (Winston S. Churchill).

The first has far more of an implication of precision than the second, though using a tape measure is far from being the most accurate way to measure length.

Perhaps the use of 'measure something quantitatively' here is meant to preclude the looser sense (AHD 2a) given above, but I'd say that that sense is automatically precluded in the hard science domains. 'Measure' would default to the 'ascertain the dimensions, quantity ... [to a relevant or best-possible accuracy]' sense here. I'd expect a scientifically orientated style guide to specify the sense/s of 'measure' available in papers.

And in fact this Wikipedia article goes a long way towards disambiguating usages:

Measurement is the assignment of a number to a characteristic of an object or event, which can be compared with other objects or events. The scope and application of a measurement is dependent on the context and discipline. In the natural sciences and engineering, measurements do not apply to nominal properties of objects or events, which is consistent with the guidelines of the International vocabulary of metrology published by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. However, in other fields such as statistics as well as the social and behavioral sciences, measurements can have multiple levels, which would include nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio scales.

You could use 'determine'.

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