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I have the following sentence:

"Working on topics that are of such high relevance (importance) for our society motivated me."

Is 'relevance' okay in this context?

I'd appreciate every comment.

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    I'd say "...high relevance for..." but "...high importance to..." Either is ok, but it depends on what you're trying to say. To the listener's ear, Electrical Vehicles might be highly relevant but not very important. Researching Covid-19 vaccinations might be both relevant and important. And the execution of prisoners in a foreign country might be important (but perhaps not relevant).
    – rajah9
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 15:09
  • Thanks rajah9 for your answer. Yes basically I am taking about the topic of integrating renewable energy sources in future energy systems.
    – PeterBe
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 15:17
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    So basically it is both highly relevant for the socienty and has a high importance to our socienty I would reckon.
    – PeterBe
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 15:29
  • The word priority might serve your purpose. Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 15:57
  • Thanks Yosef for your comment. Can I not use relevance for our socienty?
    – PeterBe
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 16:02

1 Answer 1

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You are between what I may call 'strict dictionary definition' and what I perceive to be increasingly common usage. So if you look at the online Cambridge English Dictionary, you will the following definitions:-

  1. connected with what is happening or being discussed:
  2. correct or suitable for a particular purpose:
  3. related to a subject or to something happening or being discussed: <Listed as US usage, but I regularly encounter it in British English.

If, on the other hand I look at an online Thesaurus (Thesaurus.com) I find a long list of related words, few of which I recognise as close enough to 'relevant' to be considered more or less synonyms.

admissible, applicable, compatible, consistent, important, pertinent, proper, related, significant, suitable, suited.

The Thesaurus provides a sort of Venn Diagramme (sorry, US folks - Diagram) of words whose range of uses overlap and so can in some, but not all, contexts coincide.

I would say that important is a borderline case. Even though the word is not cited by Cambridge (or by the US based Merriam Webster), my impression is that the word relevant is often used to mean 'worth paying attention to'.

This may be because its antonym does include the idea of importance, defined in Cambridge as:

  1. not related to a subject or to something happening or being discussed and therefore not important

I can remember rebellious teenagers expostulating "that's irrelevant" of a parent's admonition, meaning not that it was irrelevant to the topic under discussion (why they should not stay out after ten pm in case they got mugged, lost or drunk), but that it was not relevant to anything at all and so unimportant

This type of usage has not leaked across from the antonym to the word itself. For anyone who values precision I suggest that 'important' is not the right word. But it is a borderline case, for the reason I have given.

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  • Thanks Tuffy for your detailed answer. So I tend to choose 'relevant for'
    – PeterBe
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 15:47
  • 'Diagramme' is flagged 'archaic' not 'UK' in Wiktionary. // Vocabulary.com's 'Relevance is simply the noun form of the adjective "relevant," which means "important to the matter at hand.' This, coupled with the fact that there are not a few instances of "of such high relevance" on Google makes this 'readily answerable by reasonable research'. Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 17:40
  • @EdwinAshworth Old fashioned I am, I admit. The cheap gesture was out of place. I agree that 'high relevance' (or highly relevant) renders a factor at least an important consideration in some argument or thesis, perhaps, about society. But not, strictly speaking, to society tout court. As I conceded, This distinction is evaporating, but still is implicitly present in the definitions I cited.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 21:44

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