Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of April 22, 1999
Utilize and Use

If you are already comfortable with your English, but you would like to refine it, then I suggest that you read "Getting the Words Right", by T.A.R. Cheney, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati (1983). It treats editing, and even after all my experience I learned a lot. Moreover, it is a joy to read. This passage concerning the difference between utilize and use is an example of his style.

Searching in several sources, I found that Mr. Cheney lands in the minority with his definition of utilize. Most dictionaries equate utilize and use. But I do agree that utilize is overused (not overutilized), simply because it is a long and bureaucratic word, where a simple one projects the same meaning for fewer letters. Don't "utilize" utilize. Use use.

Try some examples, using Mr. Cheney's definitions of utilize and use.

1. Utilizing some string, I tied down the trunk of the car.
2. A camera was used to record the scene for future generations.
3. Putting the wrench to good use, I was able to fix the car.
4. A clever utilization of the tools at hand, the axe held down the tent on that windy day.

-E.F. Schumacher, an economist,
in "Small is Beautiful,"
Harper Perennial (1989)

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Created April 22, 1999, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.