Incisive, Decisive, Concise, and Precise

Here are some adjectives that might befuddle you. Often writers interchange the words precise and concise, but there is a fine distinction in meaning.

Concise means stating something succinctly, using as few words as possible yet still conveying the full meaning.

Precise means exact, accurate. It is often used in mathematical or scientific contexts in which definite, fixed statements or measurements are demanded.

While precise and exactly are nearly synonymous, they are not necessarily interchangeable. Exactly is preferred if you’re talking about a measurement, or a time.

  • My alarm is set for exactly 5:37 a.m.

Use precise if you are talking about two or more things and you want to distinguish one from the other or others.

  • I’d like my home décor to match my personality as precisely as possible.

There’s a greater distinction between decisive and incisive.

Decisive is the adjective form of the verb decide—to make a decision, put an end to debate. Decisive carries the idea of a firm, conclusive decision.

  • Johnson’s twenty-point margin gave him a decisive victory in the primary election.

Incisive has both a literal and figurative meaning, and its figurative use is more common than its literal. Literally, incisive means to cut or penetrate. Incisors are cutting teeth; an incision is a surgeon’s cut. But incisive usually is used in reference to cutting or biting words or keen and insightful analysis.

  • It was clear from the commentator’s incisive analysis that he had done a great deal of research.

I hope this short post helps you be decisive about which adjectives you plan to use.

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  1. Well done and thank you.
    We need more people like you and much more learning to rid this land of laziness in Grammar and speech
    Keep up the great work you are doing!

    1. “Literally, incisive means to cut or penetrate. ” No. Incise, a verb, means to cut. Incisive, an adjective, means cutting.

  2. “Concise means stating something succinctly, using as few words as possible yet still conveying the full meaning.”

    Concise is an adjective, described above as an adverb.

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