Commonly Confused Words: Use and Utilize

Yet another pair of words where the distinction probably doesn’t matter much. But I like precision, so: what is the difference between use and utilize?

Both words are verbs, words that show action. In trying to define “use,” I’m having a tough time not using it in its own definition. “You know, ‘use’ means ‘to use something.'”

“Use” means “to put into service.” About 99% of the time, the word you want is “use.”

“Utilize” means “to put to use.” Writers often use “utilize” to sound more important, educated, or fancy. Longer words are better, right? This occurs both in academic and business writing. The word tends to upset editors and teachers alike.

“Utilize” has the connotation of using something for an unintended purpose, though that connotations seems to be disappearing.

Again, usually “use” or a synonym is the word you want, not “utilize.”

About Natasha

Natasha received her MA in Literature and Culture in 2008 from Oregon State University. Currently she lives in Oregon with her husband and cats.
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