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Inhuman and Inhumane

Commonly Confused Words

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These adjectives have similar meanings: pitiless or lacking in compassion. But inhuman--which also means monstrous or not suited for human needs--has a harsher sense than inhumane. See Usage Notes, below

See also: Human and Humane.

Examples:

  • "For an instant Sean saw an inhuman expression of hate so evil and demented that nothing in the world could frighten the boy after seeing that." (Raymond Feist, Faerie Tale)

  • Inhumane treatment of political prisoners is considered a serious and punishable offense under international law.

Usage Notes:

  • "Careful users maintain the distinction between inhuman and inhumane. Inhumane, the opposite of humane, means 'lacking in compassion or kindness; cruel; not merciful': inhumane treatment. Inhuman, the opposite of human, is stronger and has a wider scope than inhumane. To be inhuman means to lack all human qualities, not only compassion and kindness: inhuman violence, inhuman living conditions. Inhuman has the additional meaning of 'not having human form': An inhuman shape appeared at the window."
    (Martin Manser, Good Word Guide, 7th ed. Bloomsbury, 2011)


  • "Inhuman and inhumane overlap in meaning to such an extent that it is impossible to sustain a distinction in their use. In general, inhuman refers to the characteristic of a person or action, whereas inhumane considers the same characteristic rather more in relation to the effect or the consequences of the action on the sufferer."
    (Chambers 21 Century Dictionary, rev. ed. Chambers Harrap, 2001)

Practice:

(a) A great deal of irresponsibility, selfishness, and _____ behavior hides behind the pervasive myth that all cats are actually wild animals.

(b) The rebel leader was accused of committing _____ acts of terrorism, which included the murdering and butchering of countless women and children.


Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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