Writing for Business

Sep 20 2010   4:08PM GMT

Use vs. utilize

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
An executive can _______ a business intelligence dashboard to get an up-to-the moment snapshot of how some element of the business is performing.
a. use
b. utilize

Answer: a

Utile means useful. To utilize means, literally, to make something useful. We use the word, correctly, to mean to use something for a purpose other than its main one or to find a use for something. Since the purpose of the business intelligence dashboard is to enable that snapshot of current performance, it’s used for that purpose, not utilized.

Here’s a comparison of the two words:
McGyver once utilized a shoelace, bubble gum, a house key and hair spray to create a bomb.

If he had put the shoelace in his hiking boots, strolled home chewing the gum, opened his door with the key and proceeded to set his coiffure for the day with the hair spray, he would have been using those items instead.

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