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Consider:

A person of diverse interests can talk on many subjects.

We have looked at various houses, but have decided to buy this one.

The department store sells many different things.

The criminal was charged with two distinct offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

Don't confuse these disparate concepts.

I was wondering whether these bold words are interchangeable. I guess they have different emphases.

  • 2
    Any good dictionary should help you, for example The Unabridged Merriam-Webster's unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/different (scroll down to Synonym Discussion). – Alex B. Apr 26 '14 at 3:22
  • I didn't expect so many good answers. Thanks to snailplane! Plz pick your favorite. @snailplane – Kinzle B May 1 '14 at 1:26
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+100

No, they are not fully interchangeable. Perhaps the best way to illustrate is to ring all the changes on the various words of your list and the different examples you give us to explore their distinctions:

1) A person of diverse interests can talk on many subjects.

A person of various interests can talk on many subjects.

This is a valid substitution; it differs from the "diverse" version only in that "diverse" implies and stresses a greater range and variability in the interests. The person with "various" interests may be able to talk on many subjects, but the person with "diverse" interests can talk on many subjects which have surprisingly little to do with one another.

A person of different interests can talk on many subjects.

Used this way, it is somewhat non-idiomatic, raising the question "different from what?" "Different" doesn't imply "many", merely "not the same".

A person of distinct interests can talk on many subjects.

Similarly, "distinct" does not imply "many", merely "clearly distinguishable (from each other)". But used this way, it doesn't mean that either; it would be read as an alternative definition which leaves out the "from each other": "marked" or "notable". Thus this sentence, which is also somewhat non-idiomatic, interestingly suggests something quite distinct from the previous: it's not the number of interests that allows a person to talk on many subjects, but how readily you can distinguish his interests as his.

A person of disparate interests can talk on many subjects.

"Disparate" implies "far apart (in some characteristic)". It implies even more strongly than "diverse" that we're referring to someone who has many interests, but it goes even further. It describes the interests not merely a many, but as having nothing to do with one another. It would actually succeed in communicating that the interests were "distinct" (in the first sense) in the way using "distinct" wouldn't. This sentence says that someone who has many interests which are non-overlapping can talk on many subjects.

2) We have looked at various houses, but have decided to buy this one.

We have looked at diverse houses, but have decided to buy this one.

The houses we looked at were in a wide variety of styles.

We have looked at different houses, but have decided to buy this one.

Identical meaning to the original.

We have looked at distinct houses, but have decided to buy this one.

Nonsensical. Houses are typically readily distinguishable from each other and everything else.

We have looked at disparate houses, but have decided to buy this one.

Not very idiomatic. We looked at houses which had nothing in common -- we have no idea why the agent showed them to us, she seemed to be picking them at random, so we're firing her and getting a new one.

3) The department store sells many different things.

The department store sells many diverse things.

It's remarkable the breadth of the department store's inventory.

The department store sells many various things.

Almost identical to the original, but doesn't emphasize the variety of things sold as much as "different".

The department store sells many distinct things.

Nonsensical.

The department store sells many disparate things.

The store has the most random and ecclectic inventory of any store I've been in.

4) The criminal was charged with two distinct offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

The criminal was charged with two diverse offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

Nonsensical. If there's only two, how can they be diverse? Diverse implies a group of things across a range.

The criminal was charged with two various offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

Nonsensical. Again, this word implies "many", and if there's only two, it doesn't make sense.

The criminal was charged with two different offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

Perfectly fine, but unlike the original, doesn't emphasize that the two charges are being distinguished from one another. Perhaps in the "different" formulation, they were two separate criminal instances, a month apart. But in "distinct", there's the implication that he could have been charged under a single criminal statute, but the state decided to break it down into these two. Perhaps murder + bribery is a bad example: consider,

After the star witness was found beaten into a coma, the criminal was charged with two distinct offenses, one being attempted murder, the other witness intimidation.

The criminal was charged with two disparate offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

In the criminal justice system, when evaluating offenders for likelihood to reoffend, one thing which is noted is "criminal versatility", which refers to the diversity of types of crimes for which the inmate has been sentenced over his or her criminal career; inmates with high levels of criminal versatility are more likely to reoffend.

That is the only circumstance I know of in which the disparateness of a criminal's crimes might be under discussion. "Yeah, he's only had three arrests, but for one of them, he was charged with two quite disparate offenses, one being murder, the other bribery. So there's more evidence of criminal versatility in his case than it seems at first blush."

5) Don't confuse these disparate concepts.

Don't confuse these diverse concepts.

There's a lot of these concepts and they cover a lot of ground.

Don't confuse these various concepts.

There's a lot of these concepts. Try to keep track.

Don't confuse these different concepts.

They may look the same, so I understand how you might confuse them, but actually these concepts aren't the same, so don't confuse them.

Don't confuse these distinct concepts.

These concepts quite clearly do not overlap, so you really don't have an excuse for getting confused by them.

I hope that helps!

6

If you really want to understand the finesses of these adjectives with slightly different meanings this is only possible when you understand the meaning of the Latin words. different, distinct, diverse have the same meaning. Latin dis+ ferre means when you say it of a forking path to lead in different directions. Latin tinctus means couloured, dis means differently here. So when two things are coloured differently you can distinguish them easily. diverse: Latin vertere/versus means to turn ( in a certain direction). Basically it is the same idea as in Latin dis + ferre, it is only a different verb.

various means several of different kind. Various belongs to the word family variety, Latin varietas.

disparate means different, not fitting together. Latin paratus means prepared, dis- expresses the idea that two things are not prepared in such a way as to fit together.

  • 1
    For me a parallel with Latin is good.+1 – Lucian Sava Apr 30 '14 at 10:44
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What usually happens with synonyms is that they have similar meanings but not identical meanings. They have the same general meaning, but each word will have a different nuance. Nuance can be a very subtle difference in the meaning, or it can mean that the words have the same meaning but are used by native speakers more often in certain situations.

Oftentimes a good dictionary can help us figure out the differences between words like this. Let's consult my favorite dictionary, the New Oxford American Dictionary, and see what it has to say.

diverse (adj) - showing a great deal of variety; very different

various (adj) - different from one another; of different kinds or sorts

different (adj) - not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality

distinct (adj) - recognizably different in nature from something else of a similar type

disparate (adj) - essentially different in kind; not allowing comparison

It looks like the word "different" shows up in every definition. So that is what makes these words similar. But as you can see most of the definitions don't just say "different", they say "different" and then they elaborate on what kind of difference. That is the nuance.

Perhaps the best way to learn the difference between these words is to pay attention to which words are used most commonly in different environments: in speech, in novels, etc. For example, you will usually hear "different" and "various" in speech, but maybe you will see all 5 in a novel because writers get bored using the same words over and over and they like to use an eclectic mix of words.

Anyway, let me analyze your 5 sentences and see if I can help answer your question.

A person of diverse interests can talk on many subjects.

We have looked at various houses, but have decided to buy this one.

The department store sells many different things.

The criminal was charged with two distinct offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

Don't confuse these disparate concepts.

Can we change all of these words to "different" and still keep the same meaning?

A person of different interests can talk on many subjects.

NO, this sentence no longer makes sense, "diverse" means something like "many" here rather than "different"

We have looked at different houses, but have decided to buy this one.

YES, but you lose the emphasis, "various" emphasizes "many" and different does not

The department store sells many different things.

YES

The criminal was charged with two different offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

YES, but you lose the emphasis, "distinct" puts strong emphasis on "not the same", so maybe the sentence before this was "Was the criminal charged only for murder, or did they get him for his other crime too?"

Don't confuse these different concepts.

YES, but you lose some nuance, "disparate" means something like "completely different" or "contrasting" or "not related at all"

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They can be generally interchangeable, but some of them have usual usages associated with them.

For instance, diversity often is applied to people when discussing culture.

Our office has a diverse makeup.

The population of this city is quite diverse.

But it may sound awkward if you say, for instance:

Our office has a distinct makeup

This implies that the group is different from most others in some unusual way not necessarily related to cultures.

Adjectives and adverbs can be difficult to master, even for native English speakers, because of the subtle differences in meaning.

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1)

A person of diverse interests can talk on many subjects.

here diverse basically means a range, or several/many different things, as in:

A person with a range of interests can talk on many subjects.
A person of many interests can talk on many subjects.

2)

We have looked at various houses, but have decided to buy this one.

here various refers to several, it implies that they are not all the same. There will be some but probably not many.

We have looked at several houses, but have decided to buy this one.
We have looked at a few houses, but have decided to buy this one.

3)

The department store sells many different things.

here different just means not the same.

4)

The criminal was charged with two distinct offenses, one being murder, the other bribery.

here distinct refers to quantified and specified things. Another way you could use this word:

There is a distinct difference between the two crimes he committed.
That is the distinction between man and other mammals.

5)

Don't confuse these disparate concepts.

disparate things are different things that may or may not be specified. Generally used in describing negative situations or themes. Check these sample sentences from Collins:

Common military doctrine, equipment, even a shared language in this disparate "coalition of the willing" won't be possible.
Seattle and Federal Way have launched the most visible campaigns in the state to deal with disparate achievement and discipline.
Repeating the same species in each tier of planting proved another method of unifying the disparate elements.

I don't think these words are necessarily interchangeable, but can be similar. It really depends on understanding the context of what is being communicated.

0

From 20,000 feet, they are quite similar to each other but if you microscopically look at those bold words, they are appropriately used in their sentences and changing them may alter the context.

In my opinion...

a) A person of diverse interests can talk on many subjects - the word diverse here refers to a person's varieties of interests. For instance, a person with interest in traditional Chinese Medicines as well as Modern Medicines (Allopathy). So, if the subject is health, he's the best one to give inputs with his diverse interests.

b) We have looked at various houses, but have decided to buy this one - the word various may refer to various types of houses lacking uniformity. For instance, I saw houses categorized as penthouse, condo, apartment and so on but I finally decided to buy this one.

c) The department store sells many different things - the word different refers to the things that are unlike in size, shape, form, utility or things the like. For instance, food packets, stationery, decorative items and so on.

e) The criminal was charged with two distinct offenses, one being murder, the other bribery - the word distinct refers to constituting a separate entity or part. Murder and bribery are two separate criminal acts.

f) Don't confuse these disparate concepts - the word disparate refers to the concepts that are fundamentally different from each other.

Try to interchange the terms. If you dig in further, they won't fit in each others' place.

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