Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Flammable and Inflammable

200px-flammable-symbolsvgFlammable vs Inflammable

Flammability is described as how easily something gets burned or ignited. Fire, or combustion, is the result. Due to the implication of fire hazards, many establishments implement the use of building and fire codes to closely monitor, and or, properly manage emergencies related to fire. This, however, brings about the birth of popular terms, such as flammable and inflammable.

Today, many people are still asking about the difference between these two words that describe flammability, or combustion. Surprisingly, these two words mean exactly the same thing. Yes, flammable and inflammable are similar. Both terms denote that something is combustible, or that it can be ignited. However, many people get carried away with the prefix ‘in’, and that’s why they mistakenly define ‘inflammable’, as the opposite of flammable.

You may have noticed, certain trucks, that carry liquids that can be burned, such as ethanol, acetone and gasoline, are all marked with warning labels bearing the term flammable instead of inflammable. This is because, the use of the latter is rather odd, and it only makes the confusion worse. To the ones who will have the chance to gaze upon the marks of these trucks, and are the bystanders or any person nearby, the simple usage of the term flammable is rather more acceptable, although, using inflammable is really the more appropriate term. The reason for this, is that inflammable is derived from a Latin word that literally means ‘to set fire to.’ Instead of the usual meaning of the prefix ‘in’ (the opposite, a negation), this word uses the said prefix to mean ‘inside.’ To further clarify things, those items or objects, that cannot be burned or ignited, are said to be non-flammable, and not inflammable.

The main difference is just seen in the spelling, wherein the latter has the prefix ‘in’. This prefix causes the confusion, because the use of this prefix has always been attributed to mean a negation of the root word. For example, when you pertain to stability as the state of being stable, instability is the exact opposite, negating the root word stable by applying the prefix ‘in’ before the word.


1. Inflammable and flammable are terms that mean the same to describe objects or items that can be burned, or ignited. However, the latter is more acceptable, and more comfortably used by many, to minimize confusion, whereas the first term is the more appropriate term based on its original Latin form.

2. Inflammable is an older term compared to flammable. The term flammable was just recently devised to avoid confusion amongst the public.

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  1. Actually, the word “flammable” didn’t exist before the 1920s.
    Inflammable comes from the Latin (inflammare: to inflame). In this case, the prefix “in” doesn’t mean “not”.
    It was someone’s bright idea to use “flammable”, instead because there was concern that the public at large (i.e.: those who don’t know Latin), would think “inflammable” means “not burnable”.
    Sadly, this has led to the confusion.
    Strictly speaking, the correct adjective to describe something that is highly combustible (i.e.: that burns easily), is “INFLAMMABLE”.

    • in my many years in trucking we had the difference broken down to: one would burn, the other would burst into flames (almost like an explosion). (don’t remember which was which.

  2. Thankyou for your suggestion about flammable and in flammable .

  3. Thank you for your suggestion about flammable and inflammable .

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