Should I Use Decide or Determine?
Posted by Jake Magnum | April 12, 2018 | This or That?
A common mistake I see while proofreading is the misuse of the verbs decide and determine. These words have similar meanings, so it makes sense that writers often use one when they should use the other. This article will explain the difference between decide and determine so that you can avoid making this mistake.
To put it simply, to decide means to make up one’s mind or to make a choice. To determine is more scientific and has to do with cause-and-effect. This is supported by definitions given by the Oxford English Dictionary:
decide: Come or bring to a resolution in the mind as a result of consideration. Make a choice from a number of alternatives.
determine: Cause (something) to occur in a particular way or to have a particular nature. Ascertain or establish exactly by research or calculation
Based on these definitions, it is clear that the verb decide cannot accompany a noun if that noun is something that does not have a mind. For example, decide has been misused in the following example:
Incorrect: Our financial situation will decide where we go on vacation this summer.
Because a financial situation doesn’t have a mind, it can’t decide anything. Determine should have been used instead.
Correct: Our financial situation will determine where we go on vacation this summer.
Things are not so clear-cut when the noun is something that does have a mind. Both sentences below are written correctly (but mean slightly different things):
We still have to decide where we’ll be going on vacation this summer.
We still have to determine where we’ll be going on vacation this summer.
In cases like this, which verb to use depends on the context. If the people in question have a few vacations in mind, all of which are possible, and it is up to them to simply pick one, decide is the better verb to use. If the people in question have a few vacation ideas, but they still have to figure certain things out (such as cost, how much time they are able to take off work, etc.) to see if their ideas are even possible, then determine is the better verb to use, as it might not be a matter of choice.
Decide. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/decide
Determine. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/determine