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Use vs. Utilize: Differences and Practical Tips

Are “use” and “utilize” interchangeable? Many people may think so, and use the words that way, but that’s not always the right thing to do. While “utilize” sounds more formal and proper, it’s a different word than “use” and has a slightly different meaning. 

use vs utilizeuse vs utilize

Both Are Verbs

The word “use” can be either a noun or a verb, but “utilize” is always a verb. People get these two words confused in their verb, or action word, form. So, let’s focus on that.

Definition of Use With Examples

As a verb, the word “use” means:

To put or bring something into action or service; to handle or consume something

Examples of how to put “use” in a sentence include:

  • May I use your pen to sign my name?

  • I will use all the eggs in this recipe.

  • She doesn’t want you to use her new tablet to play games.

Notice how each item is brought into action or service in a common way. 

Definition of Utilize With Examples

While the definition is similar, “use” is a part of the definition of “utilize.” The word “utilize” is not just a form of the word “use.” To utilize something means:

To make use of something in a new, practical, or profitable way

Examples of how to use “utilize” in a sentence include:

  • Let’s utilize the leftover lettuce to make a dress.

  • I had to utilize a clothespin to hold my hair up when my barrette broke.

  • She likes to utilize old books as shelves by hanging them horizontally on the wall.

Notice how each sentence presents the use of one object or material in an unconventional or creative way. The application of the item goes beyond its intended purpose.

Substitution Rules

“Use” can almost always be substituted for “utilize” in a sentence, but “utilize” can’t always be substituted for “use.” When you take “utilize” out of sentence and insert “use” in its place, the sentence still makes sense. The reverse isn’t always true. 

Examples Where “Use” or “Utilize” Works

In these examples, “utilize” works because the items are being used in unconventional ways. “Use” also works because the items are being brought into action. 

  • I don’t think we can utilize paper to make a fence.
    I don’t think we can use paper to make a fence.

  • I had to utilize a sock for a bookmark.
    I had to use a sock for a bookmark.

  • Joe told us to utilize chewing gum to stick the boards together.
    Joe told us to use chewing gum to stick the boards together. 

Examples Where Only “Use” Works

In these use vs. utilize examples, “utilize” doesn’t work because the items are being used for their standard purpose. 

  • Correct: When will you use that hammer to build your bench?
    Incorrect: When will you utilize that hammer to build your bench?

  • Correct: The President had to use his veto power
    Incorrect: The President had to utilize his veto power.

  • Correct: Please use a pencil to fill out the form.
    Incorrect: Please utilize a pencil to fill out the form

There’s Nothing Wrong With “Utilize”

What is wrong with the word “utilize”? Nothing is wrong if you’re using it correctly! Keep in mind that “utilize” is reserved for unconventional or creative situations rather than common situations. Continue improving your grammar by exploring other misused words and commonly confused words

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