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:

  • Efficacious — Ef fi*ca cious, a. [L. eficax, acis, fr. efficere. See {Effect}, n.] Possessing the quality of being effective; productive of, or powerful to produce, the effect intended; as, an efficacious law. Syn: See {Effectual}. {Ef fi*ca cious*ly}, adv.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • efficacious — [ef΄i kā′shəs] adj. [L efficax (gen. efficacis) < efficere, to bring to pass, accomplish (see EFFECT) + OUS] producing or capable of producing the desired effect; having the intended result; effective [an efficacious drug] SYN. EFFECTIVE… …   English World dictionary

  • efficacious — index active, beneficial, cogent, competent, effective (efficient), functional, influential, politic …   Law dictionary

  • efficacious — sure to have the desired effect (often of medicines), 1520s, from L. efficaci , stem of efficax (see EFFICACY (Cf. efficacy)) + OUS (Cf. ous). Related: Efficaciously; efficaciousness …   Etymology dictionary

  • efficacious — effectual, *effective, efficient Analogous words: potent, *powerful, puissant: cogent, telling, sound, convincing, compelling (see VALID) Antonyms: inefficacious: powerless …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • efficacious — [adj] efficient, productive active, adequate, capable, competent, effective, effectual, energetic, influential, operative, potent, powerful, puissant, serviceable, strong, successful, useful, virtuous; concepts 528,537 Ant. incapable,… …   New thesaurus

  • efficacious — ► ADJECTIVE formal ▪ effective. DERIVATIVES efficaciously adverb efficaciousness noun. ORIGIN from Latin efficere accomplish …   English terms dictionary

  • efficacious — [[t]e̱fɪke͟ɪʃəs[/t]] ADJ GRADED Something that is efficacious is effective. [FORMAL] The nasal spray was new on the market and highly efficacious. Syn: effective …   English dictionary

  • efficacious — adjective Etymology: Latin efficac , efficax, from efficere Date: 1528 having the power to produce a desired effect < an efficacious remedy > Synonyms: see effective • efficaciously adverb • efficaciousness noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • efficacious — efficaciously, adv. efficaciousness, n. /ef i kay sheuhs/, adj. capable of having the desired result or effect; effective as a means, measure, remedy, etc.: The medicine is efficacious in stopping a cough. [1520 30; < L efficaci (s. of efficax)… …   Universalium

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