Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Being an effective communicator means choosing just the right word with just the right meaning under just the right circumstances. As a professional freelance writer, I am particularly cognizant of the words that I choose; some have said you should avoid the word “very” and employ more descriptive, visually-oriented terms instead. The film wasn’t very good; it was splendid, spectacular or mesmerizing.

With over a million words in the English language, you certainly have no shortage of options, but this introduces a new problem: knowing what the words mean and when to use them. And this may be the reason why some people confuse “adept” with “inept.” They do sound similar, don’t they?

Both “adept” and “inept” are most commonly used as adjectives, meaning they modify a noun and provide it with an added attribute. “Adept” and “inept” also share the fact that they both are related to the notion of skill, talent or ability. However, these two terms are effectively opposites of one another.

To be adept at something means that you are very skilled at that something. You’re proficient or talented at a particular task or area of work. For instance, on my client testimonial page, Thursday Bram says that I am “an extremely adept writer, capable of switching from different topics with ease.” She means to say that I am a skillful writer. I’m good at what I do.

Sentences with “adept” typically take on one of two constructions:

  1. (Subject) is an adept (role).
  2. (Subject) is adept at (task).

The meaning is fundamentally the same, though the sentence is formed differently. Michael is an adept writer. Michael is adept at writing. Of course, there are countless variations here too.

To be inept at something, on the other hand, means that you are not skilled at all at that something. You’re incompetent, unskilled, or poorly equipped for the task. A common stereotype is that geeks are socially inept, meaning that “geeks” are not very proficient in social situations. They perform poorly. They are socially awkward.

You’ll notice that the construction here is a little different with “socially inept.” As far as I can tell, it is not incorrect to say “socially adept,” but I find that kind of usage less common. Otherwise, the concept is the same with the definition being the polar opposite. The noun form of inept is ineptitude. The origin of “inept” comes from the Latin prefix “in-” (not), which combines with the word “apt” (appropriate or suitable) to form “inept” (not appropriate or not suitable).

Hopefully, these Grammar 101 posts are helping you become more adept at writing. If I’m being totally inept, let me know.