I was helping a friend create a motivational letter for a scholarship and I wrote a sentence in the lines of: "(...), which would qualify my project as a candidate for the Program".

We changed this because my friend suggested the word candidate can only refer to a person. Notably the Merriam-Webster dictionary lists only the uses that refer to people.

However lately I've seen a few uses of the word when refering to objects, primarly in tech articles. So can this word be used in a broader sense?

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    Is this question is a good candidate for this site? – Kris Aug 21 at 8:36
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    Yes, every time you download a release candidate from Firefox or Apple or Microsoft, they deliver an actual human being that then lives inside your machine. – RegDwigнt Aug 21 at 11:19
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    @RegDwigнt - That's who's been eating my M&Ms!! – Hot Licks Aug 21 at 11:56
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    Why do you capitalise program? – Peter Mortensen Aug 21 at 19:20
up vote 37 down vote accepted

Collins definition 4 has the following (my emphasis):

A candidate is a person or thing that is regarded as being suitable for a particular purpose or as being likely to do or be a particular thing.

I use 'candidate' a lot in this sense, drawing up lists of software bug fixes to be considered for inclusion in a new release.

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    It's interesting that M-W only considers 'candidate' applying to a person though. Oxford, Cambridge and Collins (cited above) all have "person or thing" in their definitions. Perhaps because of the overwhelming use of 'candidate' in its application to American politics compared with other uses in AM-E? – Charl E Aug 21 at 8:44
  • It could simply be a matter of Collins considering candidate (when used for a thing) as a figurative (loose) usage, rather than a strictly defined one. People often use figurative or loose language (my computer died/a loud color/...) and its particular meaning (when different from the literal meaning) doesn't always make it into the dictionary. – Flater Aug 21 at 11:28
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    "Release candidate" is a commonly used term for a new version of software, which still has to be tested but if it passes the tests, would actually become a new release. – ElmoVanKielmo Aug 21 at 12:49
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    I think this M-W definition covers the non-person case: "one likely or suited to undergo or be chosen for something specified [, e.g.,] a candidate for surgery". The word "one" in this sense can refer to a thing rather than a person. – Mark Foskey Aug 21 at 17:15
  • @MarkFoskey I agree, but the fact that all of the examples they provide are of people is misleading. – barbecue Aug 21 at 18:59

The use of candidate for a project is, I believe, supported by all dictionaries. The difference between Merriam-Webster's and Oxford's or Collins' wording is no coincidence:

one likely or suited to undergo or be chosen for something specified


A person or thing ...

If we look up one we find, among others:

a certain indefinitely indicated person or thing.

It's simply that "one that ..." can be a person or thing; the quoted dictionaries agree, but M-W is more concise.

This is corroborated by M-W's entry for victim:

one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent: the schools are victims of the social system

No, it can refer to any noun. If you want to further clarify, you can use candidate as an adjective: "...which would qualify (project name) as a candidate project for the program."

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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