'Precision' vs 'Accuracy': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on November 9, 2023

‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’: What’s the difference? Sometimes, words overlap in meaning, yet we rely upon them because of their distinctions. This article will help you become more precise and accurate with your language use while learning the difference between ‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’.

Are you in a rush? Here’s a preview of what’s to come:

  • ‘Precision’ is a term that deals with the exactness of something in relation to others
  • ‘Accuracy’ is a term that deals with the correctness of something in relation to a goal 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’?

One of the main reasons these terms are often confused is because they appear in each other's definitions. That is to say that ‘Precision’ can sometimes be defined as being accurate while ‘Accuracy’ can be defined as how precise we are. But does that mean they are the same thing? No, they’re not. 

The first degree of separation between the two lies in their definitions, showing us there are better terms to describe their meanings.

  • ‘Precision’ is defined by exactness, or how close items are relative to each other. 
  • ‘Accuracy’ is better described by correctness, or how close items are to a target. 

It is important to note that the “items” in question can be all sorts of things, varying from numbers or data on a graph to shots on a target. In fact, let’s use the target example to visualize the key differences between ‘precision’ vs and accuracy.’ 

Visualizing ‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’

Say there are four people shooting at a round target, with the goal clearly being to hit the bullseye in the middle as many times as possible. Let’s take a look at each person’s outcome to see how they demonstrate ‘precision’ vs ‘accuracy.’ 

Shooter A has shots all over the target, none of which are close to the bullseye and are all in random spots across the board.

  • Shooter A has no ‘precision’ or ‘accuracy.’

Meanwhile, Shooter B seemed to have better aim and had a bunch of shots clustered together, but they were all skewed right and above the bullseye.

  • This means that Shooter B had decent ‘precision’ because the shots were close to each other but bad ‘accuracy’ because they missed the bullseye. 

Shooter C managed to land all of their shots in the ring directly outside the bullseye, but they’re spread out like sprinkles on a donut.

  • So, Shooter C had good ‘accuracy’ because they were close to the center but needed better ‘precision.’ 

Finally, Shooter D hit the bullseye dead on every time and created a hole in the target right in the center. Their ‘precision’ and ‘accuracy’ were on point. 

Hopefully, visualizing the difference between our new terms made them easier to understand compared to each other. But let’s make sure you know everything about ‘precision’ vs ‘accuracy’ individually as well. 

Definition of ‘Precision’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Merriam-Webster, ‘precision’ is a noun that means:

  • The quality, condition, fact, or state of being precise; exactness
    • “The deal was planned and executed with military precision.”
  • The degree of refinement with which an operation is performed or a measurement is stated
    • “A precision of six decimal figures.”
  • The accuracy (as in binary or decimal places) with which a number can be represented is usually expressed in terms of the number of computer words available for representation.
    • “Double precision arithmetic and the representation of expression.”

As an adjective, the word ‘precision’ can also mean:

  • Adapted for highly accurate measurement or operation
  • Held to low tolerance in manufacture
  • Marked by the precision of execution
    • “They used a precision instrument.”

The word ‘precision’ as adopted from ‘precise’ came from the Latin root ‘praecidere’ which meant to “cut short” or “cut in advance.”

Synonyms of ‘Precision’

  • Exactness
  • Preciseness
  • Clarity
  • Distinctness
  • Rigor
  • Carefulness
  • Meticulousness
  • Perfection

Antonyms of ‘Precision’

  • Carelessness
  • Inexactness
  • Imprecision
  • Thoughtlessness
  • Disregard
  • Ignorance

Definition of ‘Accuracy’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Merriam-Webster, ‘accuracy’ is a noun that means:

  • Freedom from mistake or error; correctness
    • “Check the novel for historical accuracy.”
  • Conformity to truth or to a standard or model; exactness
    • “Impossible to determine with accuracy the number of casualties.”
  • Degree of conformity of a measure to a standard or true value
  • The quality or state of being correct
    • “We have confidence in the accuracy of the statistics.”

The word ‘accuracy’ comes from the Latin root ‘accūrātus’ which means “done with care,” indicating how carefulness plays a role in being accurate and correct. 

Synonyms of ‘Accuracy’

  • Accurateness
  • Closeness
  • Correctness
  • Fidelity 
  • Delicacy
  • Fineness
  • Preciseness
  • Veracity
  • Truth 

Antonyms of ‘Accuracy’

  • Inaccuracy
  • Approximation
  • Imprecision
  • Roughness
  • Falsity
  • Wrongness
  • Inexactitude
  • Incorrectness
  • Vagueness
  • Guesswork

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’

Now that you have a sense of what these words mean let’s make sure you can discuss them, starting with being able to say them aloud correctly. Follow the guides below to ensure you learn the most ‘accurate’ way to pronounce these new words. 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘precision’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Preh-sizh-uhn’ (note that the second syllable is the voiced version of the ‘sh’ sound, the word “decision”) 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘accuracy’ as a guide:

  • ‘A-kyur-uh-see’ (the first ‘a’ is wide as in the word “apple,” but the second ‘a’ is swallowed as in the word “alone”; the ‘kyur’ syllable sounds like the word “cure”)

How to Use ‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’ in a Sentence

You’ve seen an example of how to use these words, but they can also appear in a variety of other contexts. The sample sentences below will give you an idea of more ways to use these words, so give them a read and then try writing some practice sentences of your own. 

‘Precision’ Example Sentences

  • She navigated the obstacle course with cat-like precision, landing in the most optimal spot of each of the mats. 
  • The sailors used a precision instrument to make sure their navigations were correct so they didn’t get lost or miss the island they were headed for. 
  • The mother shopped with military precision, knowing exactly where all the Christmas gifts she wanted to buy were located in the store. 
  • The results that they got from the experiment were to a precision of only two decimal places, meaning they could have been more precise.

‘Accuracy’ Example Sentences

  • After repeating the experiment multiple times, they were confident in the accuracy of their results. 
  • He wanted to portray his character with the greatest accuracy, so he watched videos of them to be able to imitate them perfectly. 
  • There have been debates surrounding the accuracy of radiocarbon dating fossils and whether there are better methods to use. 
  • Translations of ancient texts are praised for their accuracy, given their complex linguistic history. 

‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’ Example Sentences

  • She knew that to win the sharpshooting contest, her shots would need to demonstrate precision relative to each other and accuracy at the bullseye. 
  • The chemistry team was confused because their results showed repeated precision around the same value, but the data did not show accuracy towards the desired value. 

Final Word on ‘Precision’ vs ‘Accuracy’

When words appear in each other’s definitions, it can be all the more confusing to separate them. But that teaches us to dig deeper and find better ways of understanding them. Remember also that sometimes, using examples or visualizations is a great way to cement the differences between words in your head. 

Need a review? Here’s a rundown of what we covered:

  • ‘Precision’ is a noun that refers to the degree or state of exactness of something, usually in relation to each other. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘accuracy’ is a noun that refers to the degree or state of the correctness of something in relation to a target or desired outcome. 

Want to learn more about how to make your writing as clear as possible? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles that will teach you to make your vocabulary understanding more ‘accurate’ and your ability to use words more ‘precise’.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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