Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Is that priceless or worthless? Confusing words part 2

Two pictures of priceless objects, and two of worthless objects - but which is which?  This is one of those cases where the English language can seem totally illogical.  You would expect priceless and worthless to be synonyms, but in fact they're opposites.

Here's why:

The suffix -less means not having ______

  • A useless thing is something that doesn't have a use.
  • A homeless person is someone who doesn't have a home.
  • Something worthless does not have worth - in more natural English, it isn't worth anything.

So in our picture, the bags of rubbish, the broken umbrella, and the dead fish are all worthless.

Something that is worth a lot of money is very valuable, so you would expect to pay a high price for it.  But for something completely unique, like the vases in the top-left picture, or the helmet in the bottom-right, are even more valuable than that.  In fact, they are priceless - they are so valuable that they do not have a price.  A synonym for priceless is invaluable, which means that something isn't possible to value, or decide the price of in money.

Here are some collocations for all three words, which will help you remember the difference:


  • invaluable experience 
  • invaluable insight 
  • invaluable skills
These collocations show that invaluable is used a lot in talking about job skills.  "I gained invaluable experience in customer service..." would be a sample use in a CV.

  • priceless treasure
  • priceless artefact
  • priceless antique
  • priceless work of art
Priceless, on the other hand, is mostly used for physical objects of great value, so you can expect to see it in museums.

  • worthless rubbish
  • worthless advice
  • worthless degree
  • worthless piece of ****
Worthless is widely used, whether for unwanted physical objects, qualifications that don't help you get a job, or just someone's bad advice - hopefully not mine!

Image made with BigHugeLabs Mosaic Maker using photos taken from by @fionamau, @sandymillin, @mkofab, @VictoriaB52, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

No comments:

Post a Comment