Commonly Confused Word Pairs: Use vs. Utilize

Following virtual training sessions on Write It So They Read It: Technical Writing for Non-Technical Employees or Proof It! How To Be a Better Proofreader, participants send me questions about grammar and writing and punctuation they encounter at work. For the next four weeks, I’m reaching inside the figurative mailbag to answer questions from readers. Please tag me with your pesky punctuation or confusing word choice question, and I’ll be sure to answer. Below is our first reader Q&A:

From Lynnie:

“I have a coworker who insists utilize is a word worth using. Do you have information you could share regarding your recommendation not to use that word?”


Lynnie, to answer your question, the real issue is with people using use and utilize synonymously. Many business writers substitute utilize for use because they believe it sounds more professional. Many technical writers especially tend to overuse utilize, and they usually are not addressing it correctly. 

In reality, use and utilize do not have the same meaning. Practically speaking, we should be using use any time we are talking about engaging something in order to accomplish a task. 

Lynnie used email to update her team about all the meeting cancelations due to coronavirus precautions. (Utilize would be incorrect in this sentence.)

Utilize has a different meaning. We use utilize when we are describing engaging something in order to accomplish a task for which it was not originally intended.

Lynnie utilized her dictionary as a doorstop for her office door.

International travelers have begun utilizing surgical slippers as face masks when trapped in airports for hours.

So, the issue is using the word utilize correctly rather than using it as a fancy substitute for use. In other words, we should stop substituting utilize for use. It is a commonly misused word in the “rise of -ize” trend we are encountering as writers. This includes words such as:

  • Bulletize
  • Securitize
  • Dollarize
  • Statementize
  • Calendarize

To customize a keynote or professional development session that will have your audience laughing and learning, contact Mandi Stanley.

Certified Speaking Professional Mandi Stanley works with business leaders who want to boost their professional image by becoming better speakers and writers through interactive high-content keynotes, breakout sessions, workshops, technical writing seminars, and fun proofreading classes. 

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