There is a Difference Between the Words Use and Utilize and you Really Should Know It

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Is there a difference between use and utilizeDid you know that there is a distinct difference between the words “use” and “utilize”? If you do, that’s a bit of a surprise because very few people recognize that the words use and utilize have two completely different meanings. In fact they are two of the most common mistakes in English we come across.

In practice, the word utilize is probably one of the most misunderstood words out there and it is important that you are able to understand why it cannot be used interchangeably for the word use.

In this article, we take a close look at use and utilize, explain the differences between the two words, and give you practical tips to ensure that you never use either of them incorrectly again.

The definition of use

To use something means to employ it for a given purpose:

Can I use your car next Monday?

Would you like to use my computer?

Does anyone have a pen I can use?

I really should use my time more wisely.


The definition of the word utilize

To utilize something is to turn it to a practical use. Hmm, so how is this different from using something? Well, the difference between use and utilize can be found in the purpose for which you are employing something; when you utilize something, you give it a new use that it may not originally have had.

You can utilize Microsoft Word to draw pictures.

Is it possible for me to utilize your garage as a storage area during the garden party?

We try to utilize as many of our existing tools as possible to create new innovations.


Choosing between use and utilize

It is actually very easy to choose between use and utilize in your written English. Basically, you need to assess whether the item you are referring to is usually employed in the manner to which you are attributing it.

For example, you use a pencil to draw, but you do not usually utilize a pencil as a weapon:

You can use my pencil for the sketch if yours is blunt.

The airport security confiscated her pencil because they were concerned that it may be utilized as a weapon.

You use a conference room to hold meetings, but you do not usually utilize it for parties.

Please use the conference room for the team meeting this afternoon.

The restaurant is fully booked so we’ll have to utilize the office conference room for our Christmas party.

The next time you are choosing between the words use and utilize don’t be tempted to exchange them as synonyms for one another. They mean different things!

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13 thoughts on “There is a Difference Between the Words Use and Utilize and you Really Should Know It”

  1. All your examples are perfectly correct with “use,” and, I’m afraid to say, incorrect with the word “utilise.”
    Utilise is often misunderstood completely by grammarians in the United States, where the word has been so misused new rules have been created to determine if “use” or “utilise” is correct in a given context. The word utilise has no place outside of chemistry and pharmacology, where it has a very specific use. The misuse of the word utilise is the ease with which the word use can be modified during speech in a fashion similar to other ise/ize words.
    The rule is actually quite simple: never use the word utilise unless you are writing a paper that include reactions in chemistry or pharmacology. Even then, more often the word use is the correct choice if you are not speaking of specific “utilisation” of one molecule of another to effect a change.

  2. There are other disciplines beyond chemistry and pharmacology that use “utilise” specifically. For example various engineering disciplines such as process and production engineering. I’m sure there are plenty of other use cases out there as well.

  3. I agree. This is what I learned in college. Well, to be honest, what I really learned was to not use “utilize” because it is trying to sound too fancy. Which I find to be true in most business practices. Most people that use it over and over are the people who try to make things sound more important than they are. Granted, there was always this real reason it didn’t apply, but that’s the main one. I think there is a psychological aspect to people who constantly say “utilize” and their ulterior motive in hoping people look at them differently. I always thought it was a basic collegiate explanation though, to not use the term in business writing and it only applied to certain practices as stated above. I guess not everyone listened that day.

  4. Just use “use.” Why burn three syllables, 240 more pixels, or untold buckets of ink or toner on your resume when you (the editorial “you”) don’t know the difference? “Utilize” sounds (or reads) like an eleven-year-old is using (or utilizing) longer words to fulfill the requirement of a “two page essay.” And finally, if you check various dictionaries and can’t find consensus that a difference even exists, and if so, what the difference is….why not use the shorter, simpler, more conversational word?

  5. “For example, you use a pencil to draw, but you do not usually utilize a pencil as a weapon….”
    Uh, what? You told us that “utilize” is when you use something for an other-than-intended purpose. Then, you told us that you do not usually utilize a pencil as a weapon. Wrong. You absolutely utilize a pencil for a weapon, because in your own definition, that’s when you use the word utilize. You do not usually use a pencil as a weapon. But when employing a pencil as a weapon, you are by-God utilizing it as such.

  6. What a fabulous site..utilize all over the place and I can’t think I’ve EVER said it myself. Agree totally with Robert Hall..fancy talk twaddle most of the time.

  7. I can remember 25 yrs ago when we rarely heard “utilise” except when it was used referring to the improvised use of something for which it was not normally used. Or, as younger unsophisticated people would put it, “…we rarely heard utilise except when it was utilised referring to the improvised utilisation of something for which it was not normally utilised.” If that doesn’t sound right or make sense, it illustrates that there is a difference, even if it is subtle or not easy to define. Some people have a need to feel “fashionable”, or to be “woke” as they put it, so they use these words or phrases that were not commonly used before, if you will (that’s a British phrase that was not common in America until it became fashionable in that 25 yr period (not period of time please!) At the top of this blog Vappingo gives as an example : “We try to utilize as many of our existing tools as possible to create new innovations.” New innovations? Is this tautology tongue in cheek? Let’s give Vap the benefit of the doubt. I’m sorry to be picky Christian but since we are discussing grammar I noticed you write, “Most people that use it over and over are the people who try… etc”. This use of ‘people that’ or ‘anyone that’ is more commonly used in Australia in preference to ‘people who’. I find it a bit irritating as I feel they think of people as objects. I mean, they don’t say ‘cars who have wheels’ or ‘houses who have windows’. There is a difference. Don’t get me on the subject of bathrooms on aircraft. It would be nice to have a bath before arriving at the end of a long flight but all I ever find is poky little toilets.

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