Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of October 17, 1997
Improve, Ameliorate, Better
"To improve" is a general verb. "To ameliorate" has the specific meaning of to improve something that is presently bad. One does not use "ameliorate" in the sense of making a good thing better. The Random House CD-ROM Dictionary puts it this way:
Syn. 1. amend, emend. IMPROVE, AMELIORATE, BETTER imply bringing to a more desirable state.
IMPROVE usually implies remedying a lack or a felt need: to improve a process, oneself (as by gaining more knowledge).
AMELIORATE, a formal word, implies improving oppressive, unjust, or difficult conditions: to ameliorate working conditions.
To BETTER is to improve conditions which, though not bad, are unsatisfying: to better an attempt, oneself (gain a higher salary).
Try these. Sometimes more than one word (improve, better, ameliorate) is correct. The word in parentheses is less common, but still correct.
1. "This signal is awful. I shall try to improve (better)
2. "My signal-to-noise is pretty good, but I think that I can improve (better) it still more."
3. "I feel sorry for people in North Korea. I wish I could improve (ameliorate) their situation."
3. "We can improve (better) the paper by adding more data."
4. "By adding a vacuum layer we can improve (better) the terrible thermal insulation."
5. "The proposal lacks substance. How can we improve (better) it?"
6. "The research environment at Company X is stultifying. Don't work there until the conditions improve (ameliorate)."
A couple of young guys in Boulder,
Cooled their gas cloud down colder and colder.
Then with much exhortation,
They hit Bose Condensation,
And beat out their rivals (much older).
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Created May 6, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.