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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.
(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.
(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.”