Remember that time Kevin asked “why use lot word when few word do trick?” Then you probably took that advice and chucked it straight into the garbage when you wanted to impress someone with a weird 50-cent word. Of the 50-cent words you’ve pulled out, you’ve probably pulled out “utilize” before when you could have said “use.” Once you figured that you could do that you probably just started using them interchangeably. But are they actually interchangeable? What’s the difference between use and utilize?
Breaking out the dictionary
First step is probably to whip out the dictionary in order to sort this all out. Alright, so use. Bam: “to put into action or service.” Now utilize: “to make use of, turn to practical use or account.”
Well. That wasn’t very helpful. Also, Merriam-Webster, you can’t use the word “use” in the definition of the word “utilize” when you also list “utilize” as a synonym in the “use” entry. Side rant over.
Anyway, so on paper these two words are the same. But language is nuanced, and a lot of what we understand comes from reading between the lines.
Looking at connotation
“Utilize” is most notorious for being super pretentious. For good reason, you can pretty much just say “use” anytime you want to say “utilize,” and not only will you still make sense, you will also have used less syllables. It doesn’t help that people seem to dislike the “-ize” suffix when it isn’t necessary. Seems to track pretty well saying stuff like “incentivize,” “strategize,” or “synergize” sounds like peak corporate boardroom meeting-speak.
Anyway, our two words can be used interchangeably (utilized interchangeably?). However, it’s the “practical use” part of the definition we’re particularly interested in when it comes to “use” and “utilize.” Generally, the latter implies deliberate action or at least some kind of strategy to how you used something. One of the most popular ways this comes out is by saying you used something for a reason other than its intended purpose. So you use a dollar bill to pay for something, but you can utilize it to keep a fire burning.
Speaking of use, what about the useless? See if you know some (almost) useless facts here.