Which Word Wednesday: Healthful vs. Healthy

By November 9, 2011 language No Comments

A few months ago, as I was editing content for a client, I came across the word healthful. I don’t see that word very often, and I wondered how it differed from healthy, so I decided to do a check on it.

Since then, I’ve known the difference between the two, but I have a hard time training my tongue to use them properly. Perhaps a feature on Which Word Wednesday will get my tongue to cooperate with my brain? Here are the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

healthful :: adjective
having or conducive to good health

healthy :: adjective
in good health

So far we’ve learned that both words are adjectives and both describe the state of health. This doesn’t help with usage though. David Dowling helps in his The Wrong Word Dictionary: “Healthful means conducive to good health” while “healthy means possessing good health.”1

Ron Evans agrees in The Artful Nuance, adding, “What is healthy enjoys good health.”2

Based on these definitions, food would be described as healthful, not healthy, because food contributes to our health either positively or negatively. Food does not enjoy good health. (Unless you live in VeggieTale World.)

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What’s my WWW verdict? People are healthy; food, exercise, and rest are healthful. Proper grammar, punctuation, and words are also healthful.

What’s your verdict? Do you use healthy to describe food, exercise, and rest? Will you be able to train your tongue to use healthful instead? Do share in the comments.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 122.
2. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 115.

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