'Use' vs 'Utilize': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 21, 2023

Knowing whether to write 'use' vs 'utilize' can really trip people up. They're often employed interchangeably, but the word 'utilize' is actually quite controversial. Read on to find out why.

In short:

  • 'Use' is always correct.
  • 'Utilize' is potentially only appropriate in certain circumstances. Opinions about this differ.

Knowing When to 'Use' vs 'Utilize'

As I mentioned in the introduction, the word 'utilize' can be pretty controversial. Why is that? The opinion of many is that it's quite simply pretentious. They say, why use 'utilize' when you can use 'use,' which is shorter and does the job perfectly well.

While that's a valid point, there are circumstances where 'utilize' can be more appropriate. Let me explain.

What Does 'Use' Mean?

'Use' is a verb that means "to put something such as a tool, skill, or building to a particular purpose."

For example:

You use a pen to write or a fork to eat your food.

'Use' is also a noun. In that sense, it's the purpose for which something is being used.

For example:

What use do you have for all these plants?

The noun can also be combined with prepositions to adjust the meaning of your sentence subtly.

For example:

You should put your skills to use.

The washing machine is already in use.

What Does 'Utilize' Mean?

Many dictionaries will simply list the verb 'utilize' as a synonym for 'use,' which can leave us wondering whether there really is a difference, and if not, why are there two words to say the same thing?

Instinctively, it seems wrong that this would be the case, and if you dig deeper, you'll find that a few dictionaries do denote the difference.

  • Merriam-Webster says: 'utilize' may suggest the discovery of a new, profitable, or practical use for something.
  • Oxford English Dictionary says: ​​To make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account.

These definitions suggest that 'utilizing' something requires some strategy. Instead of using the tool for its intended purpose, you find a further and more creative use for it.

For example:

  • while you use a fork to eat your food, you utilize it to poke holes in the plastic film on your microwavable meal.

Browsing online conversations between grammar aficionados seems to confirm this. It's agreed then: use 'use' to describe something's original use and 'utilize' to describe its creative use.

Are They Interchangeable?

The one thing that's important to note is that 'use' is always correct, whereas 'utilize' isn't.

'Use' can replace the word 'utilize,' but 'utilize' can't replace 'use.'

In other words, if you're wondering whether to use 'use' vs 'utilize' and want to stay on the safe side, just write 'use.'

But in an ideal world, you'd write 'use' to describe how you employ an item in its intended way and write 'utilize' to tell how you employed it beyond its intended purpose.

For example:

Use this mug for your coffee.

You could utilize this mug as a pencil holder.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Use' vs 'Utilize'

Now let's look at how to say each word. There'll be three different pronunciations since 'use' and a verb and 'use' as a verb sound different, and of course, 'utilize' has its own separate pronunciation too.

'How to Pronounce the Verb 'Use'

In the verb 'use,' the 's' is pronounced like a 'z.' There's also an imaginary 'y' at the beginning of the word. If you were to spell the word as it sounds, it would probably look something like this:

[ yuze ] or [ yooz ]

The International Phonetics Alphabet spells it like this:

/ juːz /

'How to Pronounce the Noun 'Use'

The noun 'use' rhymes with 'juice,' 'goose,' and 'Bruce.' When you say it out loud, it sounds like this:

[ youss ]

The International Phonetics Alphabet spells it like this:

/ jus /

'How to Pronounce'Utilize'

The verb 'utilize,' if written how it sounds, might look something like this:

[ yoot-ill-ahyz ]

The final syllable is pronounced the same as the word' eyes.'

The IPA spells it like this:

/ ˈyut lˌaɪz /

How to Use 'Use' vs 'Utilize'

Are you ready to see some examples of these words used in context? I'll show you three sentences that employ 'use' as a noun, 'use' as a verb, and 'utilize,' which is always a verb.

For the verb examples, I'll use different tenses so you can see the various forms they can take.

Examples of the Noun 'Use'

There's no use coming if you're not going to give it one hundred percent.

What's the use of talking about this? It doesn't resolve anything.

You can learn about the correct use of language at on our website.

Examples of the Verb 'Use'

Turmeric has been used for centuries as a natural remedy.

We're moving house next weekend and could really use your help.

Which software have you been using to create your graphics?

Examples of 'Utilize'

I lost my belt, so I will have to utilize this headscarf as a way to secure my jeans.

They're utilizing the spare room as an office.

Here, why don't you utilize this stick as a makeshift handle?

Concluding Thoughts on 'Use' vs 'Utilize'

That concludes this article on the hot topic of 'use' vs 'utilize.' I hope I've helped clarify the meaning of each word and when to use each one. Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • The verb 'use' means to employ something to accomplish a purpose
  • There's also the noun form of 'use.'
  • To 'utilize' something is to use it in a different way than its intended purpose
  • If in doubt, just use 'use.'

If you found this article helpful and would like to learn about more confusing words like these, head over to our blog.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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