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Difference Between Use and Utilize

english wordsUse vs Utilize

Having a firm grasp on the difference between use and utilize can help you from making one of those infamous English faux pas. In all recent accounts, the word ‘use’, has been part of the English language for much longer than the term ‘utilize’. It wasn’t until the last hundred years that people have mixed up the two words, usually as an effort to sound smarter, by throwing in the word ‘utilize’ where it doesn’t belong. Usually, the effort is misguided, and the English sentence is mercilessly butchered instead of expressing feigned intelligence.

Basically, you can use the word ‘use’ interchangeably, but you cannot do the same with the word ‘utilize’. You can use a fork to eat with, or you can use a fork to prop open a window, without stepping into any grammar holes. However, you can not utilize a fork for eating, while you can utilize a fork to prop open a window. Why?

‘Use’ refers to the proper and intended job with which the individual or item is acceptably associated. ‘Utilize’ is more creative, meaning that you have found a not-so-traditional manner in which to create a new function for the individual or item.

It should be noted, that when it comes to people, there is a significant difference between ‘using’ someone, and ‘utilizing’ them. That boils down to intention. When we use someone, we do so with the intention of gaining solely for ourselves, and almost always, the act requires at least a small amount of deceit. Utilizing someone has a more pure intention, meaning that there is no deceit, and we assign them to the position in our lives or company for a greater good. You can utilize someone’s talents to help you through a rough emotional patch, or to increase your business profits. The intention of utilization is more reciprocal.


1. The word ‘use’ is older than the word ‘utilize’.

2. ‘Utilize’ is much more likely to be improperly inserted into a sentence.

3. You can misuse the word ‘use’, and it will still make a proper sentence.

4. You ‘use’ items as they were intended to be used.

5. You ‘utilize’ items when you create a new or nontraditional job for the item.

6. The ‘use’ of people can be ill intended.

7. ‘Utilizing’ people is not of ill intent, nor is it a one sided exchange.

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  1. I’d be happier if there were more etymology shown, instead of solely assertions. This interests me. Thanks

  2. According to who, exactly? I’ve seen this floating around elsewhere on the internet, but never corroborated by any real authority. As far as the major, trusted dictionaries are concerned, this is just patently untrue.

    • Think of any verb ending in “ize.”
      Such verbs most often mean that a quality is being given to something that it doesn’t normally have.

      To utilize something is to give it a utility it did not previously or does not normally have.

      I use coat hanger to hang up my clothes, but I utilize a coat hanger as a car antenna.

      Also, ‘utilize’ has a specific meaning in biochemistry.

  3. I second Marcella’s comment. What is the source for these dogmatic comments? The vast majority of these ‘rules’ are actually an author’s personal opinion and have no real bearing on the real world.

    To quote the 19th century grammarian Henry Sweet, “In considering the use of grammar as a corrective of what are called ‘ungrammatical’ expressions, it must be borne in mind that the rules of grammar have no value except as statements of facts: whatever is in general use in a language is for that very reason grammatically correct.”

    If ‘utilize’ is used commonly as a synonym for ‘use’ that doesn’t make all those instances wrong. The fact that ‘utilize’ has extended meanings has no bearing on the matter; there are no completely exact synonyms in English.

    • No one denies that “utilize” is a legitimate verb and part of the language. It’s been used in the sense of “to make useful” for a couple of hundred years.

      Although “utilize” originally suggested putting something to a new or expanded use, dictionaries now accept the looser meaning of putting something to use – that is, using it.

      The question here is not legitimacy; it’s style: is “utilize” a more or less felicitous choice than “use”?

  4. Oxford English Dictionary:
    use: take, hold, or deploy (something) as a means of accomplishing or achieving something; employ
    —Oxford English Dictionary

    utilize: to make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account
    —Oxford English Dictionary


    • Okay, now we’re talking. The historical difference between “use” and “utilize” is a shading of meaning supported in the OED. Even so, it’s not a distinction worth perpetuating. In most current contexts, “utilize” is just inflated diction for “use.” I’ve never seen a “utilize” that wouldn’t benefit from being shortened to “use.”

  5. The “use for an unintended purpose” distinction of “utilize” comes (IMHO) from an incorrect reading of the dictionary definition “to make useful.” “Use” means to employ something (a tool or technique) in any old way. “Utilize” implies that the action was actually USEFUL – meaning the use was helpful; or at least, the intent was for it to be helpful. In the medical field, professionals use the word “utilization” correctly when they talk about “Emergency Department utilization.” People are trying to make the emergency room USEFUL when they utilize it. People “use” forks, bathrooms, computer programs, etc. for everyday purposes that are just ordinary, expected uses. People “utilize” emergency rooms, rocks, and many things that may not otherwise be useful, or have any intended purpose. But if those things can be made helpful for a desired purpose, then they are effectively “utilized.”

  6. I’m so tired of hearing the word utilize instead of use. The same goes for the word basically.

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