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Utilize vs. Use

Published: June 25, 2006       Updated: July 13, 2024

2 min read

(Author's note: Moldy oldie, circa 2006. Still holds true.)

Press releases heavily use the word "utilize," and rarely utilize the word "use" -- even though to most people the words are interchangeable.

Just checking some recent releases on Google News:

Aladdin's Enterprise Security solutions enable organizations to secure their information technology assets by controlling ... what content their users can utilize...

To finance the transaction, PrimeWest will utilize its existing credit lines plus a supplementary credit line of C$250 million.

Cactus Commerce End-to-End Supply Chain Solutions Utilize Upcoming BizTalk Server 2006 R2

Clearly, many corporate folks think big words sound more impressive than small words. It just sounds better to "utilize" state-of-the-art technology than to "use" it, doesn't it?

No question, execs often have big-word-itis, and it is our job as communication professionals to counter that urge with simplicity and clarity. So does that mean we should always lobby for the one-syllable, three-letter "use" over the three-syllable, seven-letter "utilize"?

Not necessarily -- because contrary to popular opinion, the words aren't quite synonymous.

As explained at Answers.com:

A number of critics have remarked that "utilize" is an unnecessary substitute for "use."

It is true that many occurrences of "utilize" could be replaced by "use" with no loss to anything but pretentiousness, for example, in sentences such as "They utilized questionable methods in their analysis" or "We hope that many commuters will continue to utilize mass transit after the bridge has reopened."

But utilize can mean "to find a profitable or practical use for." Thus the sentence "The teachers were unable to use the new computers" might mean only that the teachers were unable to operate the computers, whereas "The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers" suggests that the teachers could not find ways to employ the computers in instruction.

Got it? So utilize "utilize," but use it sparingly.

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