This is a word- or phrase-request question.

Question: What is the pair of adjectives that best describe

  • a [consistent/regular] weekly earnings pattern and
  • an [inconsistent/irregular] weekly earnings pattern?


There are two unemployed workers:

Worker A earned $500 every week prior to layoff.

Worker B had varying weekly earnings (e.g., week1=$500, week2=$350, week3=$0, week4=$700). This person can be a construction worker, a painter, fisherman, plumber, part-time casual worker, or a freelancer, etc.

In the following sentences, which I wrote, I need the appropriate word to go inside the square brackets.

(Worker A) An unemployed worker who had [regular?] weekly earnings prior to layoff gets the same amount of weekly benefits across all regions, regardless of the regional unemployment rate.

(Worker B) In contrast, an unemployed worker who had [irregular?] weekly earnings prior to layoff will receive higher weekly benefit payments in high unemployment regions and lower weekly benefit payments in low unemployment regions.


"Inconsistent" does not work. The definition below does not mention that term "quantity" anywhere, which makes me think that it cannot be used to describe the variability of "money/earnings".

If a reason, idea, opinion, etc. is inconsistent, different parts of it do not agree, or it does not agree with something else; not staying the same in behaviour or quality (Cambridge).

"Irregular" does not work for the same reason; it doesn't include "quantity".

(of behaviour or actions) not according to usual rules or what is expected; not regular in shape or form; having parts of different shapes or sizes (Cambridge).

The following terms - "variable weekly earnings, varying weekly earnings, irregular weekly earnings, inconsistent weekly earnings" - returns nothing in Ngram and in Google news (a few hits but not credible).

2 Answers 2



I think any of "inconsistent" "irregular", "variable", "varied", or "uneven" could work for this. I think you have been too ready to accept a single definition as barring a perfectly valid use of a word.

The choice of which term to use there is a matter of style and personal choice.

Dictionary citations


  • Merriam-Webster gives:

    • sense 4: lacking continuity or regularity especially of occurrence or activity (with an example of irregular employment)
    • Sense 3a: : lacking perfect symmetry or evenness
  • Oxford gives:

    • Sense 1.1: Occurring at uneven or varying rates or intervals.

  • Collins gives:

    • Sense 2: Something that is irregular is not smooth or straight, or does not form a regular pattern.


  • Mmerriam-Webster gives "lacking consistency" and particularly

    • Sense c : incoherent or illogical in thought or actions : changeable

  • Collins gives:

    • Sense 2: Someone or something that is inconsistent does not stay the same

  • Macmillan gives:

    • Sense 2: not always behaving in the same way or producing the same results


  • Merriam-Webster gives:
    • Entry 1, Sense 1a: able or apt to vary : subject to variation or changes

    • Entry 2, Sense 1a: a quantity that may assume any one of a set of values

  • Collins gives:
    • Sense 1: Something that is variable changes quite often, and there usually seems to be no fixed pattern to these changes


  • Merriam-Webster) gives:
    • Sense 2c: not uniform : irregular

  • Macmillan gives:
    • Sense 2: not the same in size or length

    • Sense 5: not happening or appearing in a regular pattern

  • Oxford gives:
    • Sense 2: Not regular, consistent, or equal. ‘the uneven distribution of resources’

  • David thanks for the answer. Its the fact that - Cambridge's definitions are a bit restrictive and that those phrases are absent from Ngram - convinced me that those phrases are not idiomatic or common usage. I can't find a reasonable number of reputable sources that have consistently used any of those phrases. As both you and Peter Jennings say, I will have to make a choice and stick with it throughout. I can only hope that my reader doesn't laugh at me. But please tell me, what would you choose to put in for Worker B.
    – AIQ
    Sep 29, 2019 at 17:54
  • @AIQ. Fair enough. I don't think any of these would be laughed at by a reader. If I were doing the writing, I would probably choose "irregular" for the parallelism with "regular" but would include a sentence explaining what I meant by the word. Sep 29, 2019 at 21:26
  • Yes! I can use a footnote to explain what my choice of word means, that would work just fine. Thanks David!
    – AIQ
    Sep 29, 2019 at 21:40

"Worker A had regular weekly earnings... " works fine. consistent or steady also can be used with the same meaning.

I think the problem lies in your research. You did the right thing, but unfortunately Google and Ngram do not always return the results you would expect. I've been chided here for quoting their statistics, so I don't rely on them any more.

Two or three of the phrases you searched for would fit Worker B. variable weekly earnings, irregular weekly earnings and possibly inconsistent weekly earnings could all be used to describe his earning pattern.

Given a choice I would use variable, but it is a matter of personal preference.

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