Mixups Unmixed: Do you use “utilize” correctly?

Gling gling! Here it is: your monthly vocabulary quiz.

I have decided to launch a series of posts entitled “Mixups unmixed.” Each month, I’ll present you with five pairs of words that scientists tend to mix up in their papers, and your mission will be to identify the correct use of these words.

Your mix-up quiz takes just a few minutes. If you know the right answers, congratulations! You’re a vocab master worthy of the Copley Medal. If not, welcome to the club! Some mixups are tricky, and you see them EVERYWHERE in scientific articles.

Shall we start?

1. Use vs. Utilize

I love this one because there isn’t a scientific article that doesn’t use these terms interchangeably. I’m curious to see if you know the difference between them.

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “We used an electrocardiogram to measure patients’ heart rate.”
  • b) “We utilized an electrocardiogram to measure patients’ heart rate.”

‘Use’ simply means to employ for a purpose. For example, in a scientific paper, you might say, “We used a pipette to transfer the solution.”

‘Utilize’ implies using something in a way not initially intended. For instance, you might write: “We utilized patients’ cell phones to track their movements.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

2. Practicable vs. Practical

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “This technique may be practicable, but it is expensive and time-consuming.”
  • b) “This technique may be practical, but it is expensive and time-consuming.”

‘Practicable’ refers to something that is feasible or possible to do. For instance, you might write: “The proposed technique is practicable in a laboratory setting.”

‘Practical’ refers to something that is useful or sensible in a particular situation. You might say: “The technique is practical as it requires minimal resources and delivers accurate results.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

3. Less vs. Fewer

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “The experiment required less steps than anticipated.”
  • b) “The experiment required fewer steps than anticipated.”

‘Less’ is used with singular nouns or uncountable quantities. Uncountable quantities can be substances (e.g., less water, less oxygen), concepts (e.g., less time, less attention), or degrees or extent (e.g., less probable). For instance, you might write: “The experiment required less time than we expected.”

‘Fewer’ is used with nouns that are countable. These are things that you can enumerate one by one. For instance: “The experiment required fewer trials to achieve a statistically significant result.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post).

4. Continual vs. Continuous

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “The experiment faced continual interruptions.”
  • b) “The experiment faced continuous interruptions.”

‘Continual’ implies something that happens repeatedly but with breaks in between. You might write: “Continual power outages disrupted the experiment.”

‘Continuous’ implies something that goes on without interruption. For instance: “We observed a continuous increase in temperature over the 24-hour period.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post.)

5. If vs. When

This mixup is especially frequent among native German speakers because in German there is only one word for both.

Quiz: Which sentence is correct?

  • a) “If the hypothesis is proven, it will change our understanding of the phenomenon.”
  • b) “When the hypothesis is proven, it will change our understanding of the phenomenon.”

‘If’ is used when there is a condition that might not be fulfilled. “If” suggests that something might happen, but it’s still uncertain. For instance, you might write: “If we obtain more funding, we can extend the research project.”

‘When’ is used when the condition is expected to be fulfilled. “When” suggests that it will definitely happen at some point. For instance: “When we receive the additional data, we will conduct a comprehensive analysis.”

Now, what do you think is the correct response to the quiz? (You’ll find the correct response at the end of the post.)

The solutions!

Ready to see how you did? Check your answers below.

Quiz 1: Use vs. Utilize

  • a) “We used an electrocardiogram to measure patients’ heart rate.”
  • b) “We utilized an electrocardiogram to measure patients’ heart rate.”

The correct sentence is a. In this context, the electrocardiogram is being employed for its intended purpose, making ‘use’ the appropriate word.

Quiz 2: Practicable vs. Practical

  • a) “This technique may be practicable, but it is expensive and time-consuming.”
  • b) “This technique may be practical, but it is expensive and time-consuming.”

The correct sentence is a. The method is feasible but not easy to implement, making it ‘practicable’ (and probably ‘unpractical’).

Quiz 3: Less vs. Fewer

  • a) “The experiment required less steps than anticipated.”
  • b) “The experiment required fewer steps than anticipated.”

The correct sentence is b. Since ‘steps’ is a countable noun, ‘fewer’ is the correct choice.

Quiz 4: Continual vs. Continuous

  • a) “The experiment faced continual interruptions.”
  • b) “The experiment faced continuous interruptions.”

The correct sentence is a. The interruptions occurred repeatedly but not without breaks, making them ‘continual.’

Quiz 5: If vs. When

  • a) “If the hypothesis is proven, it will change our understanding of the phenomenon.”
  • b) “When the hypothesis is proven, it will change our understanding of the phenomenon.”

The correct sentence is a. The hypothesis being proven is a condition that may or may not be met, so ‘if’ is the appropriate word.”

Want more quizzes? Check this one!

How to write your introduction + template

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