Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Valuable and Invaluable

The words ‘valuable’ and ‘invaluable’ are an odd pair of words. If you know the English or Latin prefixes, then at first glance they should mean the exact opposite of each other. However, in casual speech, they are nearly interchangeable. This is because of a complicated etymology.

The prefix ‘in-’, which comes from Latin, can mean something along the lines of ‘inward’, like in the word ‘insight’. However, in this case, it carries the second meaning, which is ‘not’. It’s found in words such as ‘incapable’, which means ‘not capable’. The prefix ‘un-’ is similar.

So, because of that, the word ‘invaluable’ means ‘not valuable’. And yet, it can be used to mean exactly the same thing as the word ‘valuable’.

‘Valuable’ comes from the root word ‘value’ and the suffix ‘-able’. The suffix ‘-able’ is common in English. It means, roughly, ‘fit to be’. For example, if something is movable, then it is fit to be moved, meaning that it is able to be moved. The ‘able to be’ meaning is the most commonly used today, but there are others. If something is fashionable, then it is fit for fashion, meaning that it’s in line with current fashion.

Originally, it was carried over from French and Latin and only found in those borrowed words, but over time people began to use it in English verbs, especially the ones ending in ‘–ate’, to form adjectives. Later on, people began to use it with all forms of words, including nouns and verb phrases, such as in the word ‘kickable’.

That brings us to the word ‘value’ itself. It is both a noun and a verb. The noun refers to importance placed on an object, or on a very important object, such as morals. The verb form means the act of placing importance on an object, whether by estimating the importance or by giving it high regard. This was not originally the verb form of ‘value’, however.

The word ‘valuable’ was formed back when the only English words assigned the ‘-able’ suffix were verbs ending in ‘–ate’, which means it was likely formed from the word ‘valuate’. It means specifically to estimate the worth of something important. That word has mostly been taken over by the similar word ‘evaluate’, which is a verb formed from the French word ‘evaluation’.

Because of that, the word ‘valuable’ means something that has importance that can be estimated. In other words, if you have a valuable object, then you can determine how much it would be worth if you sold it, how important it would be to the world as a whole, or so on. It has long been common practice to take certain things in to specialists to find out if you can sell them. This is normally only done to objects with inherent worth, such as gems, works of art, or inventions. Hence, if something can be valued, then it is likely that it is already worth a lot.

The word ‘invaluable’ is the opposite of that. It is something which cannot be estimated, such as the love of a parent. It means a lot, but you cannot put a pricetag on it.

Both of them describe something important regardless of whether it can be estimated, which is why they have come to mean the same thing. Since they have both taken on the same meaning, it doesn’t usually matter which one is used unless it is in a historical work set when they were distinct.

To summarize, ‘valuable’ describes something which has worth that can be estimated. ‘Invaluable’ describes something which has worth that cannot be estimated. Both of them are used in the exact same contexts and they can often be used interchangeably.


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