June 6, 2013

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Practical/practicable & Dissatisfied/unsatisfied

Posted in dissatisfied/unsatisfied, practical/practicable at 6:50 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Practical or practicable

A reader writes:

How about commenting on the difference in meaning between practically and practicably.  Many people get it wrong and use the former when they mean the latter.

We’ve talked about this once before, but I think that the subject is worth revisiting.

Interestingly, when I was talking with some friends about this, they did not even know that ‘practicable’ was a word. But it is. And a fine word it is, too.

And many who have heard of the word think that ‘practical’ and ‘practicable’ are synonyms, but they are not. Here’s the difference:

‘Practical’ means a lot of things but it is generally related to action rather than theory.

Dividing the pie this way is a very practical solution.

It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s practical to paint the white stripes green.

You’re too practical; let’s do something completely crazy!

‘Practicable,’ on the other hand, has only one meaning: capable of being done, feasible.

At the end of this class, or as soon thereafter that it is practicable, please turn in your homework.

Without all the pieces, putting together that puzzle is not practicable.

I think it will work; I think this plan is practicable.

When thinking about which to use, remember this: ‘practical’ can refer to people, but ‘practicable’ never can!

Something can be ‘practicable’ without being ‘practical.’

It will cost almost a billion dollars to make a new sidewalk; it’s practicable but the expense keeps it from being practical.

You can probably tell that I have absolutely no idea how much it costs to build a sidewalk.

And something can be ‘practical’ without being ‘practicable.’

The design makes sense—it’s practical, but we don’t have the right machine to build those wings—it’s not practicable.

Finally, both words are made negative by adding ‘im’: impractical and impracticable.

Tip 2: Dissatisfied or unsatisfied

A reader asked me about the difference between these words. She wasn’t sure there was a distinction. In fact, there is. While both words are associated with not being satisfied, ‘dissatisfied’ brings the idea of unhappiness because of the lack of satisfaction.

Because of that clerk’s terrible attitude, I find that I am dissatisfied with the service here.

‘Unsatisfied’ means merely the lack of satisfaction or the need for more—there is not necessarily any emotion or unhappiness associated with it.

 The restaurant goer left the establishment unsatisfied due to the small portions of food.

I said ‘not necessarily’ before because of the example I gave—it’s possible to imagine that the restaurant goer was not happy.

But that’s not always the case; unsatisfied can just mean unsated.

After a long day of hiking, despite emptying my water bottle, my thirst was unsatisfied.

Despite frequent reminders, the debt remained unsatisfied.

Only people can be ‘dissatisfied’ because it implies having a negative emotion. People can be ‘unsatisfied,’ too, but other more abstract things like hunger, demand, or an appetite can be ‘unsatisfied,’ too.

The unsatisfied demand for high quality teachers meant that the students always had huge classes, resulting in the students’ dissatisfaction with the school.

See the difference?

1 Comment »

  1. Mary Martin said,

    A friend shared this blog with me and I really enjoy reading it! One of the most annoying words I hear since moving to the mid-west (Des Moines, IA and Denver, CO) is “acrost”. Based on context, the speakers surely mean “across” ….. did I miss something growing up in the south?


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