is one of those words that somehow arouse intense disdain, especially among editors and other would-be guardians of English. According to its critics, the word exemplifies “bad, ugly usage.” They call it “barbarous,” dismiss it as “a meaningless buzzword,” and hate it so much that they extend their contempt of the word to contempt for its users. Some justify their scorn by saying that the word lacks the original meaning of the suffix -ful
—“full of”— as in remorseful
when it entered English in the mid-1960's, was formed and construed in the same way as other well-established adjectives ending in -ful.
In fact, as the Oxford English Dictionary
points out, the “full of” sense is considerably weakened in a large number of these -ful
adjectives. Instead, the suffix is interpreted as “having” or “characterized by,” as in beautiful, lawful,
In other common adjectives, -ful
can even be glossed as “causing feelings of,” as in wonderful
. Both of these senses of -ful
work perfectly well with the noun impact.
The aversion to impactful
is reinforced by the distaste some people have for its root impact,
especially when that word is used as a verb. (See usage note at impact
). But if impactful
is indeed derived from the verb rather than the noun—which is not a certainty—there is nothing ungrammatical about that. When added to a verb, -ful
has the meaning “apt to” or “able to,” as in mournful, wakeful, forgetful,
and worshipful. Impactful
may eventually settle into the language in similar fashion.
In sum, impactful
entered English as a normal part of language growth and change, and there is no legitimate linguistic reason to reject it. Although there are alternative words available, English welcomes synonymy. And although the negative reactions to impactful
may well be further encouraged by a sense that it is commonly found in so-called business-speak or other jargon-filled contexts, in truth the word, from its beginnings, has also been recorded in reputable newspapers, magazines, academic journals, and books.
Nevertheless, the very fact that so many people have passionate, unyielding objections to impactful
makes it advisable to think twice before using it in contexts where it might not be accepted. Perhaps its variant impactive,
with exactly the same meaning, is less likely to raise hackles. However, the “-ive” form appears in print only about one-fourth as often as the controversial impactful.