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I would like to know the difference in meaning between 'useful' and 'helpful' when we talk about non-physical things such as advice, explanation, knowledge, etc.

When can you say that some advice/knowledge is useful? And when is it helpful?

When can you say that an explanation is useful? And when is it helpful?

How do you describe something useful but not helpful? Because I know that sometimes something can be useful but not helpful.

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  • I do not know the answer but there is certainly a difference between the meanings of the opposite of 'useful' and 'helpful': if my action is 'useless' then matters are not advanced by it, but if my action is 'unhelpful' then matters are positively hindered by it. That suggests that 'useful' advice takes us in a positive direction, whereas 'helpful' advice seems likely to solve our problem.
    – JeremyC
    Aug 12, 2019 at 21:59

3 Answers 3

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Q1. Useful vs Helpful; the difference in meaning between 'useful' and 'helpful' when we talk about non-physical things.

Q2&3. When can you say that some advice/knowledge OR explanation is useful? And when is it helpful?

Q4. How do you describe something useful but not helpful? Because I know that sometimes something can be useful but not helpful.

A1. The differences between Helpful and useful is the willingness/usefulness or the act/effect;

The act/effect of somebody or something to help you achieve an objective is useful.

This booklet provides useful information about local services.

Whilst

Helpful, is the willingness of somebody or the usefulness of something to help you achieve an objective.

You should find this guidebook helpful.

useful; effective; helping you to do or achieve something: Cambridge English Dictionary

helpful; adjective; willing to help, or useful: Cambridge English Dictionary

A2&3. You can use Helpful in regard to; somebody that willingly assists you or something that is an aid to your progress towards your objective.

You can use Useful in regard to somebody or something that is helpful, facilitates or is needed such that you can progress towards your objective

So whilst somebody who is helpful might be useful, something useful can always be helpful.

facilitate; verb; to make something possible or easier Cambridge English Dictionary

A4. An inanimate object, such as a tool can be useful but not helpful However, the use of that object could be Helpful.

The security guard was not helpful, he said that as I had no I.D. card I could not enter the building. I noticed that there was an internal phone on the wall next to the door and I asked if I could use it to ring the office. "Yes" he replied, that telephone is quite useful when you forget your I.D.

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Simply: something can be generally useful, such as a bicycle or oscilloscope. However, the bicycle would be helpful in getting to class, but not the oscilloscope. The 'scope would be more helpful to view a waveform, though.

Also, as applied to people, helpful implies a willingness to assist, and usefulness implies having the ability to do something.

Five-year old Todd is helpful in class.

An expert machinist is useful to have for this project.

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Useful means being of use to someone, at no price at all, out of the purity of kindness. But that's just the heraldic, meaning pure meaning. Helpful, means you provide something which could be a ton of help full of good intent, but it might be misinterpreted as not helpful, therefore dismissed regardless of the exact wording of what you were trying to convey to the person to whose level you are dropping just to create the fake idea of peers in your head for long enough to act without ego at them.

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