These are two definitions for the noun "determination" from the same dictionary (American Heritage® Dictionary). One was right below the other. Is it me or you could basically combine these two definitions (2.a with 3.b & 2.b with 3.b) into one and there isn't any real difference between them?

2. a. The ascertaining or fixing of the quantity, quality, position, or character of something: a determination of the ship's longitude; a determination of the universe's mass.
b. The result of such ascertaining.
3. a. The act of making or arriving at a decision: After long determination, she decided to move to Utah.
b. The decision reached: It is my determination to sell the house.
See Synonyms at decision.

  • I find both the uses in 3 to be odd. I would expect to find them only in old writing.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 8, 2023 at 17:13
  • 3b is better explained by Merriam-Webster i.e. firm or fixed intention to achieve a desired end. Examples: (1) She was a woman of great courage and determination, (2) With fierce determination, working as a housemaid to support herself, she completed secondary education equivalency..
    – Graffito
    Sep 9, 2023 at 7:54
  • 1
    @ColinFine - I have come across it in current UK legal contexts, e.g. a court or tribunal can make a determination about something, e.g. an application by somebody, and, in civil law, 'expert determination' is a binding dispute resolution process which can resolve disputes faster and more cheaply than the courts or formal arbitration. Sep 9, 2023 at 12:27
  • @Graffito The word "determination" in a sense of "firm intention" has nothing to do with the definitions I provided in this post. At least, I think this to be the case. Can anyone confirm or disprove this? Sep 9, 2023 at 18:36
  • @MichaelHarvey, OK, old writing or legalese. Or officialese.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 9, 2023 at 22:20

2 Answers 2


The difference between 2a and 3b can be illustrated using the verb determine, which has meanings parallel to them. Consider

How did paleontologists determine the age of the fossil?


How did the judge determine that five years was the appropriate sentence?

In the former, determine means discover, work out, learn. In the latter, determine means reach a decision. The first sense of determine involves finding an answer that, in some sense, is already out there awaiting discovery; the second sense is more like creating an answer as the result of judgement and possibly opinion.

  • I've got a gut feeling that this answer is correct but It would be nice if some people upvoted it or confirmed it. Sep 9, 2023 at 18:39
  • In the UK, judges in criminal courts determine sentences by referring to sentencing guidelines. Parliament sets the maximum (and sometimes minimum) penalty for any offence. When deciding the appropriate sentence, the court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so. E.g. the maximum sentence for theft of goods worth less than £200 is six months, and if more, seven years. Sentences are calculated by an assessment of culpability and harm. Sep 9, 2023 at 20:27
  • I don't see how this is relevant to the question. Can you clarify? Sep 11, 2023 at 11:52

It's certainly true that there is a close connection between definitions 2a and 2b, but they are not the same and cannot be merged.

To grasp this you need to understand that determine (the verb) has one basic meaning, but determination (the related noun) has two different meanings.

For simplicity, let's say that "to determine" means to work out an answer to something. Determination will then mean both the process of working out the answer, and the answer itself.

Consider the dictionary example above, the determination of a ship's longitude [its position on the surface of the earth]. We could say this:

  • The ship's captain used his GPS system to determine the longitude of his ship; he determined that it was 45 degrees East.

In this example, determination now has a double focus. It describes the method by which the longitude was calculated (using the ship's GPS system). It also refers to the resulting answer (45 degrees East).

It's worth noting that other English words follow the same pattern. Merriam-Webster defines calculation in exactly the same dual way:

1a. the process or an act of calculating
1b. the result of an act of calculating

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