effective, effectual, efficacious, efficient
1. All these words mean ‘having an effect’ of some kind, but with different applications and shades of meaning. Effective means ‘having a definite or desired effect’ that is actual rather than theoretical:

• The toothbrush is undoubtedly the most effective weapon in the fight against bacterial plaque —Daily Telegraph, 1971

• She is most effective as a live performer of her own material —New Yorker, 1975

• Referring fracture patients for a DXA scan has been effective in helping prevent further breaks —Scotsman, 2007.

Cost-effective means ‘productive in terms of cost’. Effectual means ‘capable of producing the required result or effect’, independent of a personal agent, and is often more theoretical than actual:

• The rich ought to have an effectual barrier in the constitution against being robbed, plundered, and murdered, as well as the poor —A. Arblaster, 1987

• The rim of my hat, while effectually shading my eyes, did not obstruct my vision —J. Davidson, 1991.

A person cannot be described as effectual although he or she can be described as ineffectual, i.e. ‘lacking the ability to produce results’:

• The Rangers' problems stemmed from the habit that…the team's general manager…had of hiring ineffectual cronies to coach the club —New York Times, 1979.

2. Efficacious applies only to things, and means ‘producing or sure to produce the required effect’:

• It is perhaps dubious to argue that a prayer or worship becomes more efficacious if more people join in —S. Lamont, 1989

• How can I persuade them, when they go to the bar, that a Perrier or a tonic water might be just as efficacious as alcoholic liquor? —S. J. Carne, 1990.

Efficient refers to a person's or thing's capacity to do work and produce results with minimum effort and cost:

• You police spies don't seem to be a very efficient bunch, letting an old man be drowned while you are supposed to be keeping a watch on him —G. Sims, 1973

• Older systems can be improved with modern, efficient components and controls can be added to improve fuel economy —Ideal Home, 1991.

In recent use, efficient is sometimes preceded by an attributive noun that defines the scope of the efficiency, notably in relation to energy:

• Flights can be ‘offset’, which means you work out your carbon emissions and then send money to fund tree planting or energy efficient technologies —Daily Mail, 2007.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • effective — ef‧fec‧tive [ɪˈfektɪv] adjective 1. working well and producing the result or effect that was wanted or intended: • The company mounted a very effective publicity campaign. • The 7% increase in sales shows that the company has become more… …   Financial and business terms

  • effective — effective, effectual, efficient, efficacious all mean producing or capable of producing a result or results, but they are not freely interchangeable in idiomatic use. Effective emphasizes the actual production of an effect or the power to produce …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • effective — ef·fec·tive adj 1: producing a desired effect an effective revocation of the contract 2: capable of bringing about an effect effective assistance of counsel see also ineffective assistance o …   Law dictionary

  • Effective — Ef*fect ive, a. [L. effectivus: cf. F. effectif.] Having the power to produce an effect or effects; producing a decided or decisive effect; efficient; serviceable; operative; as, an effective force, remedy, speech; the effective men in a regiment …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Effective — Ef*fect ive, n. 1. That which produces a given effect; a cause. Jer. Taylor. [1913 Webster] 2. One who is capable of active service. [1913 Webster] He assembled his army 20,000 effectives at Corinth. W. P. Johnston. [1913 Webster] 3. [F. effectif …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • effective — [e fek′tiv, ifek′tiv; ] often [ ēfek′tiv, əfek′tiv] adj. [ME & OFr effectif < L effectivus] 1. having an effect; producing a result 2. producing a definite or desired result; efficient 3. in effect; operative; active 4. actual, not merely… …   English World dictionary

  • effective — late 14c., from Fr. effectif, from L. effectivus productive, effective, from effect , stem of efficere (see EFFECT (Cf. effect)). Effectively in the sense of actually is attested by 1650s. Related: Effectivity …   Etymology dictionary

  • effective — [adj1] productive, persuasive able, active, adequate, capable, cogent, compelling, competent, convincing, direct, effectual, efficacious, efficient, emphatic, energetic, forceful, forcible, having lead in pencil*, impressive, live, moving, on the …   New thesaurus

  • effective — ► ADJECTIVE 1) producing a desired or intended result. 2) (of a law or policy) operative. 3) existing in fact, though not formally acknowledged as such. DERIVATIVES effectively adverb effectiveness noun effectivity noun …   English terms dictionary

  • effective */*/*/ — UK [ɪˈfektɪv] / US adjective 1) a) someone or something that is effective works well and produces the result that was intended You need more effective communication within the organization. Humour is often far more effective than shouting. The… …   English dictionary

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