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Use or Utilize?

Ask any seasoned writer whether to choose “use” or “utilize,” and he or she will most likely tell you to ban the word “utilize” from the English language and never speak of it again.

There are many folks who consider “utilize” to be a more sophisticated, intellectual form of the verb “to use,” as in “Please be so kind as to utilize the facilities on the first floor with the rest of the riffraff.” You’re also likely to see it used in military-speak, as in “A Claymore mine was utilized to neutralize the threat.” Or in police reports: “The individual utilized a .357 Magnum.”

Since there is a slight and subtle distinction between the two verbs, “utilize” is more than just an affectation—it’s also usually used incorrectly. Confusing? Yes. Even the dictionaries show the distinction yet imply that both words are interchangeable. Here are the actual definitions, if you’re interested.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “use” implies “availing oneself of something as a means or instrument to an end,” as in willing to use any means to achieve her goal.

“Utilize” may suggest “the discovery of a new, profitable, or practical use for something,” as in an old tire utilized as a swing.

Generally, though, the distinction is not widely noted. If in doubt, ditch the “utilize,” do the world a favor, and use use. And if you’re still not sure about the difference, you can rely on Writer’s Relief proofreaders to help! 

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