She is my professor in the laboratory. And she usually gives me helpful suggestions. What I really want to express is that I am grateful for her education. I thought the word "inculcation" is a word referring to great education and instruction. But she says this word is very wrong. Considering that I am an international student, I am wondering how a native speaker of English considers this word? Thank you.

  • 5
    Nice try, but in general, one should not use English words in politeness phrases if one hasn't heard them used that way before. English politeness is very arbitrary and traditional; listen to native speakers to hear how it's done. Using unusual words is asking for trouble, because there's a reason why they're unusual -- they aren't used very much and people don't know them, so they don't have any common uses except very specialized ones. Inculcate has ritual associations, so inculcation sounds sort of like some ceremony like ordination. Jan 2, 2020 at 20:06
  • 3
    Your professor's response is understandable. 'Inculcate' is a word used in connection with cults, rather than a word which describes disciplined teaching. The same problem would occur with 'indoctrinate' although one might not have expected it. 'Thank you for the instruction' is, I would say, suitable.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 2, 2020 at 20:19
  • 2
    TL;DR:, using that word may have made you come off as sarcastic or critical.
    – Robusto
    Jan 2, 2020 at 21:05
  • 1
    To be honest, using a word like inculcation in this context makes you look a little ridiculous. A note of thanks is never entirely wrong. The world would be better if more people wrote them. Courtesy is appreciated, even if it isn’t perfectly expressed. Your professor was most likely happy to be thanked but dismayed that you had expressed yourself so poorly. Polite people offer us a form if emotional beauty. We notice the blemishes in their expressions more critically.
    – user205876
    Jan 3, 2020 at 2:37
  • Thank you so much for all of the help!
    – Ruhao Li
    Jan 3, 2020 at 20:05

1 Answer 1


The word "inculcate" is associated with fostering or imparting beliefs or attitudes, particularly by repeating the same thing over and over until someone accepts it as true and unquestioningly incorporates it into their way of thinking or living.


verb [ T ] formal uk /ˈɪŋ.kʌl.keɪt/ us /ˈɪŋ.kʌl.keɪt/

to fix beliefs or ideas in someone's mind, especially by repeating them often:

e.g. Our coach has worked hard to inculcate a team spirit in/into the players.

Source: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/inculcate

This can be beneficial for the student, e.g. learning the "time tables" (5x1=5, 5x2=10, 5x3=15, ...etc) enables rapid mental calculation with little conscious effort.

Most education includes some inculcation, particularly at first when the subject is not at all understood by the student.

However it can in some cases mean imparting beliefs that are not independently provable or even beliefs that are provably incorrect.
It is therefore associated with dogma and indoctrination and propaganda in my mind (as a native English speaker) and is a relatively low (and sometimes completely unreliable) form of teaching.

This is in contrast with imparting knowledge by guidance and mentoring and inspiring, which implies that the student is being shown knowledge in a way that encourages their understanding and independent thinking and discovery.

In the case of your professor, the word would mean she is imparting the knowledge she has into you simply by your unquestioning acceptance, without requiring any understanding.

You state that she usually gives you helpful suggestions. This implies that she is suggesting a useful direction or way to discover the knowledge for yourself, and is a way of teaching you how to research and learn without anyone just telling you the answers. This is not just inculcation, even if she sometimes repeats the same thing until you understand.

I think it is more correct to use "guidance" or "mentoring" or even "inspiration" to express what you are grateful for from her.

Good luck with your studies.

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