Invaluable vs. Valuable: What’s The Difference?

Learning languages can be a really exciting way to learn about a different culture, its country, and its people.  However, language can also pose several challenges due to the fact that languages often do not follow their own rules.  Anyone who has ever studied a second or even third language can attest to the fact that grammatical rules can be the most difficult part to learn.  From complicated verb tenses to noun declensions that cover both singular, plural, gender, and case, to the lists of pronouns that older languages like Latin supply…in short, grammar is difficult.

The English language is widely considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn just based on the fact that it tends to struggle with following most of its own rules.  Part of the reason for this is that English borrows (or just completely steals) most of its grammar from other languages.  English is an etymological mashup of several different languages which causes several common grammar mistakes.

One thing that makes English especially difficult to learn is the fact that English often employs homonyms, which are words that sound the same but have different meanings.  Also, different parts of speech, like nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, are often derived from one another, making the process of learning English very complicated.

Part of what contributes to English being such a difficult language to learn is that words can have different meanings and be the exact same word, or sometimes words that sound the same have completely different meanings, thus making learning English a very complicated process.  Other times, words that sound similar have a different prefix and mean the complete opposite.

Let’s explore the words invaluable and valuable, learn their proper spellings, what they mean, and how to use them in their proper context.

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Definitions of Invaluable and Valuable

The first step to learning any word for the first time before you try to incorporate it into your vocabulary is to actually understand what the word means.  Learning the definitions of certain words is an excellent way to begin to use them yourself.  According to the Merriam Webster English dictionary, the word valuable means, “having monetary value, monetary worth a good price”.  A secondary definition that is listed is, “having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities; of great use or service”.  Finally, there is a less common version usually reserved for the plural that means “a usually personal possession such as jewelry with relatively great monetary value.” Synonyms for valuable include beneficial, costly, and expensive. Synonyms for invaluable include helpful and costly. 

On the other hand, the word invaluable means, “inestimable value, priceless in monetary terms.”

Essentially, the word invaluable is either the antonym of valuable or the superlative — so this can get a big confusing.  

Is It Just a Spelling Error?

So any time you see a word that is not listed in the dictionary, your first thought may be to write it off as a spelling error.  In this case, however, that might not be your best bet.  Both the word invaluable and the word valuable are used widely throughout English literature, culture, and conversation.  Although they do have slightly different meanings, that does not make one a spelling mistake.  They also share the same root word, which will be discussed later on in this article.

In addition, it may be easy to think that the word invaluable would mean the opposite of the word valuable.  Take, for example, the word effective, and its opposite ineffective.  Applying that same formula for the “in-” prefix, it would follow that the word invaluable would mean without value, but it does not.  

An important side note: a word not being in the dictionary does not invalidate it as proper or acceptable altogether, and that is due to the fact that language is entirely driven by culture.  Any word that becomes popular enough sees widespread use, and has an acceptable and widespread spelling will eventually become “acceptable” and worthy of being included in the dictionary.  Take the word selfie for example, one hundred years ago, the word selfie would have never even crossed anyone’s mind, but now it is in dictionaries all over the globe.

Here are some more example sentences to help you out: 

  • He gave me some invaluable advice that I will never forget. 
  • It is a valuable lesson that I teach all my students. 
  • That gold necklace is a family heirloom and is invaluable. 

What Part of Speech are Valuable and Invaluable?

Another good step to take when trying to learn a new word is to figure out what part of speech it is.  Ask yourself where the word would fit into a sentence.  In English, the primary parts of speech are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and prepositions.  Learning these well opens lots of doors in terms of what you can actually handle when it comes to learning new words.

Both the words we are discussing today are widely recognized and defined as adjectives, meaning they assign clarification, definition, and description to nouns used in conversation or writing.  Both valuable and invaluable can be used to describe people, places, or things with inherent worth.

However, as discussed above, the word valuable can also be used as a noun, usually in its plural form, e.g. all the valuables were stolen from the safe the night of the robbery.  

Etymology and History: Where Did Valuable and Invaluable Come From?

Learning a word’s history can be like opening a window into the past.  The etymology of most words in English actually reveals why things are so complicated in this language, and that is because most of English has actually been derived from a plethora of other languages.  The majority of words in modern English have gotten their roots in Western European languages by way of more ancient languages such as Latin and Greek.  

This word is no exception.  According to EtymOnline, the word valuable (and its root word, value) comes from the French word “value”, meaning the degree to which something is useful or estimable, which in turn was derived from the ancient Latin word “valere”, meaning to be strong, well or of value.  French and Latin share a lot of common grammatical concepts, but that still does somewhat explain why the word itself causes so much confusion even today.  

In Summary

At the end of the day, your audience is the most important factor in all communication.  Once you can read an audience, you will never pick the wrong words ever again.  Good luck!