I would like to ask the difference between the "out of commission" and "out of order" in terms of meaning and usage.

Are they different in terms of formality? An elevator, an ATM machine or a computer can be out of order. Can I use "out of commission" also for these vehicles? Does it have to do with machines that are in public use?


out of commission in AmE can be a colloquial usage meaning "broken, not in working order, not in service".

Sorry, I can't pick you up at the airport. My car's out of commission.

That elevator is out of commission.

That vending machine is out of commission.

Sorry, can't make it to the party. My stomach's been out of commission.

A sign placed on the elevator or vending machine by building management would say "Out of Order", which means "broken" or "not working properly".

out of commission can also refer formally to things like large ocean vessels or railway engines which are taken out of service.

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Machines are said to be out of order(elevators, ATM machines, milling machines, etc). A car can also be out of order though in general conversation we say "broken down".

Out of commission means basically the same thing. But do bear in mind it often refers to factories or large things like dams. Those things when they begin operating, are said to be commissioned or brought on stream. So, if they are not in operation they can be said to be "out of commission".

People do sometimes say something is out of commission in every day language when they could have also said out of order. However, a large thing like a factory cannot be "out of order", technically speaking. It would be "out of commission".

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  • 1
    +1 Also, somebody presiding at a meeting might bang a gavel and say, "You're out of order!" But they would never say, "You're out of commission!" (Assuming we extend the discussion beyond just things.) On the other hand, somebody home sick could be said to be "out of commission" but not "out of order." – Jason Bassford Oct 8 '18 at 19:39

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