- On May 14, 2014
I started this bulletin with an airtight agenda: Always write use, never utilize. It’s simpler and means the same thing. Utilize doesn’t sound professional, just pretentious.
That’s mostly true, but it turns out utilize shouldn’t be banished outright; it has a small place—just where took some investigating.
Utilize means to find a profitable or practical use for something, which is likely why the business world is so carried away with it! (But the simpler use is also correct when used in relation to profit and practicality.)
So where’s its place?
The American Heritage Dictionary had the answer in this usage note:
The teachers were unable to use the new computers might mean the teachers didn’t know how to operate the computers, whereas The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers suggests the teachers could not find a way to use the computers in their instruction.
Which leads me to advise you to opt for utilize only when use could be misinterpreted to mean something other than what you intend.
Consider these sentences:
1) To help pay for the merger, the American corporations can utilize cash held abroad. No confusion here. Cash pays for things. Use is better.
2) The new president made organizational changes to more effectively utilize the company’s sales and marketing personnel. To some ears, using personnel could sound cold-hearted, so utilize seems okay.
3) Physical assets like dental chairs and equipment, once utilized, have relatively little value. No question: use.
4) To ensure employee safety, particularly after office hours, the company utilizes surveillance videos. No question here either: use.
Make use your default—when you write and speak.