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I'm trying to understand the difference in meaning between reason and rationale.

For example,

They cut off our water supply, but didn't give us their (reason/rationale).

What are the implications if I choose either word in the above sentence?

Extra question: Is it the same difference between being reasonable and being rational?

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2 Answers 2

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I The word "rationale" refers to a logical explanation rather than to a plain reason, and it can be quite long. (sense "1" below)

(SOED) 1. A reasoned exposition of principles; an explanation or statement of reasons. 2. The fundamental or underlying reason for or basis of a thing; a justification.

For instance, you say normally "The reason for my being late is that I couldn't wake up in time.", but you would never say "The rationale for my being late is that I couldn't wake up in time."; the logical consequence is just too plain for using this latter word. This is why there is a great number of books, articles and papers with titles mentioning the rationale of some entity (The Rationale of …).

However, the meaning of "rationale" tends towards that of "reason", as in sense "2".

(ref.) The rationale behind the introduction of these credits was primarily to reduce the dependency of the United States on oil and natural gas.

They cut off our water supply, but didn't give us their (reason/rationale).

The word "rationale" wouldn't be used in such a context; there is usually a simple, direct cause-and-effect event (work on water supply network, nonpayment, water shortage, …) that results in the supply being cut off.

II "Reasonable" implies qualities that are to be associated more with general wisdom than cold logic, which is the true province of what is usually labelled as rational.

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  • There's effet in your second-to-last paragraph. I couldn't figure out if you meant effect or effete.
    – iBug
    Jan 5, 2023 at 5:00
  • @iBug There would be no rationale for "effete"; corrected.
    – LPH
    Jan 5, 2023 at 6:16
  • Thanks, now I understand. It'd be clearer if you added hyphens, i.e., direct cause-and-effect event. Otherwise my confusion came from interpreting that as "a direct cause and an (adjective) event".
    – iBug
    Jan 5, 2023 at 6:57
  • @iBug You are right, as a modifier "cause and effect" has often hyphens.
    – LPH
    Jan 5, 2023 at 7:12
  • @iBug you haven't accepted this answer. Is there any reason/rationale behind that?
    – Ooker
    Oct 29, 2023 at 7:26
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In this use case a "reason" could be as simple as "nonpayment". The "reason" would generally constitute a simple circumstance and likely will not come with an explanation.

A "rationale" in this example would be expected to have background information justifying the action with logic or fact or both, eg "we shut your water off for nonpayment because we cannot continue to operate unless people pay".

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  • Interesting. If taken, kindly indicate source.
    – Pacerier
    Jun 15, 2023 at 18:24

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