3

Miss Wilson, our boss, is not liked by anyone in the office because she is a very (dominating / dominant) person.

Do these two adjectives have the same meaning here, and if yes, are they interchangeable? If not, where is the difference?

6

The two adjectives stem from the same verb, but they are not quite interchangeable.

Dominating, when used as an adjective, is about winning. A dominating person likes to assert their authority, win every argument, and treat colleagues poorly. In the example sentence, dominating is a good fit, because it explains why Miss Wilson would be unliked by colleagues.

Dominant, on the other hand, means "playing a primary role". Example usages:

  • Humans are mostly right-handed. However, in lobsters, the left and right claws are equally likely to be the dominant claw.

    It is not the case that one claw is subjugating the other, so dominating would not be appropriate here at all.

  • Since the gene that leads to round peas is dominant, you cannot easily predict whether a pea plant bred from two round pea plants will have round or wrinkled peas.

    The opposite of a recessive gene is a dominant gene. That's just the accepted terminology.

  • The young lion was gravely injured while challenging the dominant male.

    Although the alpha male undoubtedly has a dominating personality like Miss Wilson, that is not relevant. Rather, we are talking about the fight to occupy the primary social role in the pride of lions.

That said, there are situations where either word could be acceptable. For example,

  • As n grows large, we can approximate 5n2 + n + 1 as 5n2, since 5n2 is the __________ term.

    It's both the term of primary importance and the term that dwarfs all others, so either dominant or dominating could work, interchangeably.

  • Sigmund Freud has long been the dominant figure in the field of psychoanalysis, even though his ideas had little scientific backing.

    For whatever reason, his work was generally held in high regard.

    Sigmund Freud has long been a dominating figure in the field of psychoanalysis, even though his ideas had little scientific backing.

    With this substitution, there is a change in meaning. Now, it sounds like all other researchers felt intimidated or outcompeted by Freud.

-1

Dominating is what she does. It is an adjective derived from the verb, emphasising to us that it is telling us about the way she behaves.

How did she behave in the meeting? She was very dominating.

Dominant is an adjective, which describes the sort of person she is. "She is a very dominant person"

The connotations of one being a state and the other being a behaviour, is that one that emphasises the permanence of the condition.

"Dominant" probably is telling us more about long-term consistency of the person than dominating does, but it's a subtlety, and dominating could be as long-lived a behaviour as dominant.

Both words can be equally applied to personality traits.

Dominant also has additional other meanings, but they are not involved in the question as asked.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.