human, humane, humanitarian
1. The notion that human should only be used as an adjective and that human being should be used for the noun is found in some older usage books (though not Fowler, 1926) but is not supported by the weight of usage. Many examples of human as a noun will be found in OED2, to which may be added:

• There rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick —William Golding, 1954

• The human got in and, still holding the box with exaggerated care, placed it on its knees —T. Pratchett, 1992

• Sorry, dear, I forgot that you humans need to eat every day —J. Slater, 2003.

2. As an adjective, human is used predominantly as a classifying word in non-judgemental contexts, qualifying words such as body, eye, life, mind, nature, race, rights, and voice. The difference between human and humane in their judgemental meanings is that human denotes a generalized quality that distinguishes (actual or ideal) human behaviour from that of non-humans, whereas humane denotes a quality as it affects treatment of other people: (human)

• When he pushed the postern closed behind him she stepped back into the gateway, eyeing him with very human caution —J. Byrne, 1993

• To highlight his human qualities, Kong was given more expressive features than a normal gorilla —Times, 2004

• (humane) This is only a temporary solution and there have been many attempts to organise more humane working systems —W. T. Singleton, 1989

• We must…seek a more humane way to deal with asylum-seekers that keeps families together —Morning Star, 2007.

Note, however, that humane is used with reference to animals as well as people:

• There is a range of attitudes including the position of those who can accept whaling in principle if it can be made more humane in practice —Animal Welfare, 1992

• A dog's ear infection was so severe that the only humane option was for him to be put to sleep, a court heard —South Wales Echo, 2007.

3. Humanitarian is a 19c word and was originally a noun used in theological contexts. From the 1850s it has had the adjectival meaning ‘practising humanity or humane action’, and it is a common word in modern contexts of international aid and support:

• Reports from Jordan indicated that Iraqi businessmen fearful of incurring penalties were no longer prepared even to transport food and essential humanitarian supplies to Iraq —Keesings, 1990.

In more recent use it has developed a wider meaning relating to wars and catastrophes, as in humanitarian crisis, disaster, etc., where the sense is ‘requiring humanitarian action’, in effect the opposite of the original meaning. Usage is stretched too far if it is treated virtually as equivalent to humane: ☒ A legal war is not necessarily a humanitarian war.

Modern English usage. 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Humane — in early use meant civil, courteous or obliging towards humans and animals. In modern times it is characterized by sympathy with or consideration, compassion and benevolance for others, especially for the suffering or distressed.ynonymsSome… …   Wikipedia

  • humane — mid 15c., variant of HUMAN (Cf. human) (Cf. german/germane, urban/urbane), used interchangeably with it until early 18c., by which time it had become a distinct word with sense of having qualities befitting human beings. But inhuman still can be… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Humane — Hu*mane , a. [L. humanus: cf. F. humain. See {Human}.] 1. Pertaining to man; human. [Obs.] Jer. Taylor. [1913 Webster] 2. Having the feelings and inclinations creditable to man; having a disposition to treat other human beings or animals with… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • humane — I adjective altruistic, beneficent, benevolent, benign, bounteous, brotherly, charitable, clemens, clement, considerate, decent, fraternal, generous, helpful, hospitable, humanitarian, humanus, kind, kindhearted, kindly, merciful, misericors,… …   Law dictionary

  • humane — [hyo͞o mān′, yo͞omān′] adj. [earlier var. of HUMAN, now usually assoc. directly with L humanus] 1. having what are considered the best qualities of human beings; kind, tender, merciful, sympathetic, etc. 2. civilizing; humanizing [humane… …   English World dictionary

  • humane — ● humane nom féminin Caractère d imprimerie dont les formes s inspirent des lettres romaines, rénovées à la Renaissance. (Classification Vox [1954].) …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • humane — humanitarian, *charitable, benevolent, philanthropic, eleemosynary, altruistic Analogous words: compassionate, *tender, warmhearted: gentle, lenient, mild (see SOFT): clement, merciful, tolerant, *forbearing: kindly, *kind, benign, benignant… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • humane — [adj] kind, compassionate accommodating, altruistic, amiable, approachable, benevolent, benign, benignant, broad minded, charitable, clement, considerate, cordial, democratic, forbearing, forgiving, friendly, generous, genial, gentle, good, good… …   New thesaurus

  • humane — ► ADJECTIVE 1) having or showing compassion or benevolence. 2) formal (of a branch of learning) intended to civilize. DERIVATIVES humanely adverb humaneness noun …   English terms dictionary

  • humane — [[t]hju͟ːme͟ɪn[/t]] 1) ADJ GRADED Humane people act in a kind, sympathetic way towards other people and animals, and try to do them as little harm as possible. In the mid nineteenth century, Dorothea Dix began to campaign for humane treatment of… …   English dictionary

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