In our company, we've recently had a discussion about the usage of the verb amend in the context of a screen in our software user interface, where a button reads amend set (meaning add something to this set or modify this set). We're mostly non-native English speakers and this word seemed a bit exotic. Is it commonly used in this context?

From a non-native English speaker perspective, I'd prefer modify set. Our target audience is native (British) English speaking, though.

  • Are adding to the set, removing from it or both? – Mitch Sep 13 '12 at 12:22
  • @Mitch: Adding, removing, even renaming the set... – Lukas Eder Sep 13 '12 at 12:24
  • 1
    OK. To Americans, 'amend' is part of 'amendment' which is a modification of a legal document (like the constitution), which usually comes as an additional document possibly denying ('repealing') things in the main document. So 'amend' sounds like 'add' to Americans, but much more formal (not exotic). Use 'add' if you're just adding, or 'change' or 'modify' (either is fine, they are both well used in computer interfaces). – Mitch Sep 13 '12 at 14:40
  • @Mitch: True. Formal would better describe it than exotic. Thanks! – Lukas Eder Sep 13 '12 at 14:42

I found this definition of amend:

  • 1 : to put right; especially : to make emendations in (as a text)

  • 2

    • a : to change or modify for the better : improve
    • b : to alter especially in phraseology; especially : to alter formally by modification, deletion, or addition

Modify, on the other hand, is defined like this:

  • 1 : to make less extreme : moderate

  • 2

    • a : to limit or restrict the meaning of especially in a grammatical construction
    • b : to change (a vowel) by umlaut
  • 3
    • a : to make minor changes in
    • b : to make basic or fundamental changes in often to give a new orientation to or to serve a new end

Also, if you search for synonyms, you will find amend in the list of modify's synonyms, and vice versa.

From a position of non-English speaker I would say that amend seems to have a meaning closer to change something to make it better, while modify has a meaning closer to change something. If I saw amend set in an application, that would definitely confuse me and make me thinking "what did that developer mean?".

  • 1
    That was my impression, too. It seemed to me that amend had a semantics indicating a change of quality that goes with the modification - as opposed to the simple modify – Lukas Eder Sep 13 '12 at 9:40
  • +1. As a native speaker, I broadly agree with this answer. I'll add, though, that the word amend does not strike me as at all "exotic". – TRiG Sep 13 '12 at 9:41
  • @TRiG: You're probably right. By finding it "exotic" I meant finding it "exotic" in the context of generally modifying the object... – Lukas Eder Sep 13 '12 at 12:26
  • Just for an additional perspective, as a native speaker I have never heard modify used in the manner of definition 1. – scleaver Nov 5 '12 at 16:14

From OED: "To free (a thing) from faults, correct (what is faulty), rectify."

Is amend really the right word for what you describe? It could be that somebody has got confused with append: "To add in writing by way of supplement or appendix."

  • Yes. amend really doesn't rectify things in the real-life context. It just modifies things... – Lukas Eder Sep 13 '12 at 9:40

I received an e-mail from Pearson, where I can amend my contact preferences:

enter image description here

As you say, for a native (British) English speaking audience "amend" is obviously a synonym for "alter".


'Amend' is generally used as correction as in "Amend your mistakes". You can use 'Modify' or 'Edit'.

  • Yes, "amend" seems fine to me (an American). – GEdgar Sep 13 '12 at 14:44

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