“Use” versus “Usage”

Posted on 11. Jun, 2012 by in English Grammar

The words “use” and “usage” are often used in the same way by many English speakers (both native speakers and ESL learners).  The meanings of these two words do overlap sometimes, but they are not true synonyms.  The word “use” has many more meanings and applications than the word “usage.”  Some people use the word “usage” as though it were just a fancier form of the word “use,” but this is not the best way to use the word.  In general, if either “use” or “usage” seems like it could work in a sentence the best choice is probably “use” as this is a more commonly used word with more meanings.  The word “use” can in fact be either a noun or a verb and in many dictionaries this word has over 15 different definitions!  On the other hand, the word “usage” is always a noun and the majority of time has a meaning related to a ‘customary’ or ‘habitual’ nature.  Here are some of the most common definitions for these two words.

use:
(n) the act of using, employing or putting into service
Example:  The use of tools was a major advancement for humans.

(n) what something is used for
The paint brush is of use to the painter.

(v) to put into service; to make work
Example: Please use the machine to wash your clothes.

(v) take or consume
Example: My grandmother used all of her medicine and needs more.

usage:
(n) accepted or habitual practice
Example: The manager always reviews the usage of benefits.

(n) the customary manner in which a language (or a form of a language) is spoken or written
Example: The English usage of the word “the” is different from other languages.

In general when thinking about how these words are different it is helpful to keep in mind that the term “usage” refers to conventions or patterns and often refers to language or words and how they are used, accepted, and understood.  The word “use” has a much broader meaning and is found in more contexts.  In my opinion, when in doubt, use the word “use.”

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About gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after I completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.

10 Responses to ““Use” versus “Usage””

  1. Debra 30 May 2013 at 11:10 pm #

    I find it humorous that, on a blog dedicated to proper use of the English language, you have a mistake in the third line. Don’t you mean “not true synonyms” or “not truly synonymous”??

  2. gabriele 30 May 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    That is exactly what I meant – thank you for catching that and bringing it to my attention. We all make mistakes sometimes, native speakers or not.

  3. Duncan 4 July 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Gabriele,
    Thanks for this item on ‘use’ vs. ‘usage’; it’s among my various gripes on the present use of the language by the general public. I think much of the ‘mis-’ and ‘overuse’ of certain words and patterns is due to the computer. ‘Current’, ‘myself’ and ‘iconic’ are words that should be unlearned by most of us as quickly as possible.

    Regards,
    Duncan

  4. Hello 10 September 2013 at 3:06 am #

    Thanks for your explanation. As a non-native speaker, I’ve been wondering how different those are. Now I can get exact concept of Use and Usage. Thank you from South Korea!

  5. Daniela 20 September 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Thanks for explaining the difference. And… IMO there is nothing wrong with “true synonyms” here. True is an adjective and it normally goes with a noun.
    “English is the only language that has books of synonyms like Roget’s Thesaurus. In fact, there may actually be no lexemes which have exactly the same meaning. There may be no true synonyms.”
    http://dictionary.reference.com/help/faq/language/w24.html

  6. Rodrigo 18 March 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    Thank you, Gabriele :)

  7. Rodrigues Marques 28 March 2014 at 12:18 am #

    Which of the sentences below should a native of England and a Non naive of England use?

    1: I am an English teacher.
    2: I am a teacher of English.

  8. gabriele 28 March 2014 at 12:26 am #

    Rodrigues,
    As a native speaker of English I would definitely say the first sentence (I am an English teacher.) instead of the second sentences (I am a teacher of English.). There is nothing grammatically wrong with the second sentence, it just seems much more formal than the first and I would be less likely to use it in day-to-day conversation.
    -Gabriele

  9. Mark 1 April 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    Daniela,
    You posted the following quote:“English is the only language that has books of synonyms like Roget’s Thesaurus.”
    (http://dictionary.reference.com/help/faq/language/w24.html)
    I’d just like to let you know that there are indeed a number of books of synonyms published for different languages. I have several different volumes for the Spanish language. In Spanish, these are commonly referred to as “diccionarios de sinónimos y antónimos” (dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms).”

    Also, just in case anyone is looking for a good English language thesaurus, I’d like to recommend my new favorite, “The New Oxford Thesaurus of English.” This has been the best addition to my reference library in years!

  10. Gudman 21 July 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    The choice of the verb(singular or plural) that should go with a collective noun is a serious problem to me. Somebody should help me out.


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