What I mean by this question is:

If I say I'm going to test some products and rate them:

If I rate one as Satisfactory and other as Sufficient.

Which of the two products is better? Is the Satisfactory one implicitly better?

Does the order of the options make sense?


  • Very good
  • Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Sufficient
  • Bad
  • 1
    Adequate is probably more likely than sufficient in such contexts. But it's entirely arbitrary if you decide to treat either of those as better / worse than, for example, satisfactory or acceptable. In short, there's no "correct" answer to *How do I "rank" this list of adjectives. It's Primarily Opinion-Based.. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 21 '19 at 14:25
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica If the answer is “there’s no unambiguous ranking” it’s an answerable question and not opinion-based? – Stephie Dec 21 '19 at 19:47
  • @Stephie: I can't really argue with that. But I think there are probably quite a lot of questions asking effectively the same thing (Please arrange this list of semantically-overlapping words into some kind of "sequence") - many closed as POB. So maybe I should have looked for a suitable earlier duplicate. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 22 '19 at 14:03

Satisfactory and Sufficient seem to have very similar meanings. I would not be able to distinguish between them.

Your list has the problem that four out of five options suggest "no action needs to be taken". Using "satisfactory" suggests to some people "everything is okay" but it suggests to others that "Improvements need to be made".

I would suggest (following UK government education guidelines) a four-part ranking:

  1. Outstanding
  2. Good
  3. Requires improvement
  4. Inadequate/Poor

The ranking "outstanding" means it is exceptional. "good" means that there are no major changes needed. "Requires improvement" means that it is "not good" and so "should be better" and so changes should be made. Finally "inadequate" means that some things are seriously wrong and urgent changes must be made. This scale has been shown to be well understood. If a five-part scale is needed a "very good" could be inserted between outstanding and good (but it doesn't really make the scale easier to use)

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  • 1
    I agree with your overall conclusion and suggestion, but I think something that is satisfactory makes someone satisfied, and is thus stronger than something that merely suffices. This is really splitting hairs though. – TypeIA Dec 21 '19 at 22:45

Because they are different semantic categories of words, you can't rank sufficient on the same scale as good, satisfactory, or bad.

Consider the following:

"I see you can't even afford a cup of coffee. Would $1.30 be sufficient?"
"Yes, thank you. If that's all you can spare, it will still get me what I need for the moment."

"I see you can't even afford a cup of coffee. Would $1 million be sufficient?"
"Absolutely! Not only will that get me my coffee, but it would be amazing!"

In both cases, sufficient is used to indicate the logical ability to accomplish a task—getting a cup of coffee. There is no emotional or normative judgment being placed on the word sufficient itself; either it meets the bar of accomplishing the task or it doesn't.

What comes in addition to something being sufficient is how you feel about it:

It is sufficient but bad.
It is sufficient and satisfactory.
It is sufficient and very good.

From Merriam-Webster's definition of sufficient:

1 a : enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end
// sufficient provisions for a month
1 b : being a sufficient condition

As further examples of contrast, and the difference between these semantic categories, consider the following:

Your generous donations are very good and well received, but they are not sufficient to keep him fed for a month.

You have kept him prisoner and force-fed him. That is very bad, but it was sufficient to keep him alive for a month.

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These are called semantic differentiation scales in marketing and customer satisfaction questionnaires.

semantic differentiation

They work through opposite ends of a scale like: good/bad or satisfactory/unsatisfactory.

This group of words does not conform to a regular good/bad scale semantically as it uses the word sufficient, the opposite of which is insufficient, both of which refer to the idea of "being enough". I would redo the scale like this:

Very Good
Below Average

Most scales when they follow the Likert 5-point method, use a neutral term in the middle of the scale.

Like this from that Wikipedia page:

Strongly disagree [Very poor or bad]
Disagree [Somewhat poor or bad
Neither agree nor disagree [Neither poor or bad]
Agree [good]
Strongly agree [very good]

Editing the OP's we might get:

Very good
Not good or bad
Very poor

Very good Good Average Below average Very bad

I would not use this one: Satisfactory Acceptable Average Unacceptable Not Satisfactory, because it is difficult to do the five-point scale with it.

I would not use sufficient because its opposite is insufficient and those mean: not enough of something.

The "rule" for designing a five-point scale is that the end points have to be opposite in meaning and the terms on either side of the middle also should be opposites of each other. The middle term should signify a neutral attitude from the customer or client or person answering the questionnaire.

This is the basic premise to keep in mind in designing a satisfaction scale.

The word sufficient (any dictionary will confirm this) means adequate or enough.

I don't believe the OP is testing whether the customer is receiving adequate [x] or enough of [x]. Also, it does not fit the semantic scale. And if the word were to be used, it would have to be paired with insufficient.

"Do you believe you receive proper attention from the company?"

Not quite sufficient
Almost sufficient

My example above shows use of the pair sufficient/insufficient and rates the idea of enough attention or adequate attention from a company. And I actually am quite dissatisfied with it. satisfied/dissatisfied would have been a better scale to use.

Likert model

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