Cambridge Dictionary defines "in use" as

being used

and gives example

Is the washing machine in use right now?

An ELL post ("Could you...?" vs. "Were you able to...?") says

I understand the difference in use between 'could' and 'was/were able to' to refer to a specific achievement.

If I get rid of "in use", will the meaning be affected?

1 Answer 1


In this sentence, removing 'in use' wouldn't affect the meaning much and it would still be clear what you meant in this case but it adds a bit of ambiguity.

Without the 'in use', you might be referring to the difference in sound, spelling or any other property of the phrases. With 'in use' it makes it clear that it is the meaning of the phrases in the sentence that is being referred to.

These are not very likely options in this case but may be in a different example. E.g. What's the difference (in use) between 'there' and 'their'?

  • A better example - what's the difference in use between a spade and a broom? Feb 27, 2020 at 9:41
  • Thank you. I suspect "in use" does not mean "being used" in you example. So, what does it mean here?
    – WXJ96163
    Feb 27, 2020 at 13:23
  • 1
    In my example, and in the sentence in your question, 'difference in use' means 'difference in method of employment'. In concentrating on 'in use', you are breaking the phrase 'difference in use' in the wrong place. Feb 27, 2020 at 14:02

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