In an attempt to distinguish the meanings of two words, variable and various, I found that they both may be followed by such a word as degree [of something]. Moreover, degree itself may appear in singular and plural forms, which confuses me a little bit more.

So, we have four possible combinations and I would like to know which of them sound natural and which do not.

  1. Central and East European countries have adopted these practices with various degrees of success.

As the base meaning of various refers to a range of different options, and we have such a range here, I suppose this sounds good.

  1. Central and East European countries have adopted these practices with a various degree of success.

In the lack of the range this word rather conveys the meaning of to be inconstant, and Mariam-Webster marks this meaning as archaic. (meaning 6)

  1. Central and East European countries have adopted these practices with a variable degree of success.

variable relates to subjection to variation or changes. My pure supposition is it would be OK to use the word to tell a story about one single person's fickle success in some realm, but seemingly this is not an appropriate way to mention a set of distinct actors' outputs.

  1. Central and East European countries have adopted these practices with variable degrees of success.

Different countries have not the same degrees of success but they are constant, so it should sound wrong.

  • 3
    The version with "a variable/various degree" doesn't make sense, because it is saying there is one degree, and the whole point of either various or variable is that there is more than one.
    – stangdon
    Sep 16, 2022 at 12:59
  • @stangdon can't we say a variable price, variable weather or something like this? Sep 16, 2022 at 13:04
  • 1
    Yes, but that is referring to one price, or the weather, which varies, probably over time. Different countries have different degrees of success, which is why it doesn't make sense to say "a degree".
    – stangdon
    Sep 16, 2022 at 13:55
  • @stangdon got it, but what about various/variable degrees of sucess? In my opinion, the first word is appropriate as it refers to a range of different countries' achievements. And variable is not ok here due to these do not change as time passes (we do not say that they are fickle) Sep 16, 2022 at 14:26

1 Answer 1


As @stangdon has mentioned in comments you cannot use either of the forms with a XX degree as each of them has its own degree.

Of your other options if you use various that could mean each has it own degree which differs between countries but could be constant within countries. On the other hand variable would imply that the success could vary over time. An option you do not mention is varying degrees of success which is similar to various in this case. Note though that these are fairly subtle differences and you will be understood whichever you use.

  • +1 specifically for flagging up with varying degrees of [success] - which as this NGram clearly shows is far more common than all of OP's alternatives put together. To my mind, the primary "subtle difference" conveyed by all the alternatives is basically just "non-native speaker here!" Sep 16, 2022 at 15:23

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