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Unmeasurable or immeasurable?

24 Aug

This is one that came up in something I was editing a few days ago. And, I admit, one that I had to check in the dictionary. I was pretty sure the writer wanted unmeasurable (I was right), and I wasn’t sure that immeasurable was a word (I learned something, notably that SpellChecker doesn’t think it’s a word, which is why we still use dictionaries!).

Unmeasurable means, specifically not able to be measured objectively. We use this one in the literal sense: “the immense lizard was unmeasurable with the tiny ruler in the standard lizard measuring kit”; “the sea trench in which the angler fish lived was of an unmeasurable depth”.

Immeasurable means, a bit less specifically, I suppose, too large, extensive or extreme to measure. We should reserve this one for the more figurative sense (otherwise there’s no point in having two different words, is there, and where would THAT leave us?): ” the immeasurable mercy of their god”; “he had immeasurable ambition”.

“I experienced immeasurable relief when I discovered that the width of the lake, filling and evaporating as it did, was actually unmeasurable.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
13 Comments

Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

Tags: , , ,

13 responses to “Unmeasurable or immeasurable?

  1. Nordie

    August 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    “The immeasurable depths of space”…..Unmeasurable doesnt sound quite the same does it?

    I always imagine unmeasurable to be those things smaller than a universe, but impractical or impossible to quantify a measure.

    Like

     
  2. Marlene

    December 16, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    This info has been unmeasurably
    helpful!!! ThankU!!!
    ThankU Google for showing this option when I was seeking a definition for immeasurable!!!

    Like

     
    • Liz Dexter

      December 17, 2014 at 6:40 am

      Good use of the word in the comment – congratulations! And I’m glad I could help.

      Like

       
    • carmelite

      May 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Marlene, unless I did not understand the above explanation, you mean “immeasurable”. Information are not something you can measure literally, therefore we are in a figurative context.

      Like

       
  3. Ada Chen

    March 29, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you, I was in fact writing an essay and these definitions really help me out a lot!!

    Like

     
  4. Grainne

    June 19, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    I had the opposite reaction. I googled both words because I have always used the word immeasurable in the descriptive context not in the literal context, however on several occasions of late I have seen the word unmeasurable used to describe heartache etc. I was beginning to think I was wrong. Thank you for clarifying.

    Like

     
    • Liz Dexter

      June 19, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      You’re welcome – glad I could help!

      Like

       
  5. stroudos (@stroudos)

    June 24, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    I love this comment:

    “otherwise there’s no point in having two different words, is there, and where would THAT leave us?”

    Sends a shiver up the spine just thinking about it, doesn’t it?

    Like

     
  6. Sumathi Prasad

    July 6, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Wow👍Thank you for making me understand more clearly the difference between unmeasurable and immeasurable !!! Somehow I got the feeling that one of the two words didn’t exist?? So I had no choice but Google 😊😊

    Looking forward to more insight on the English Language from you…
    All the best 👍👍

    Like

     
  7. Mehrbano Khattak

    August 10, 2016 at 8:51 am

    maybe if the word is written as “un-measurable”
    I had an urge to use this word today and came across your blog

    Like

     
    • Liz Dexter

      August 10, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      Yes, but unfortunately most of the time it’s not written with a hyphen. I’m glad I was able to help anyway.

      Like

       

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