The “upmost” or “uppermost” is the highest position above. The “utmost” is the most possible, (of) the greatest degree, or the furthest point away.
What is the difference between upmost and utmost?
“Upmost” and “utmost” are words writers commonly confuse due to their similar spellings and pronunciations, and this mix-up tends to occur with words like importance, respect, or concern. Sound familiar? We thought so.
The main difference between upmost and utmost ultimately narrows down to degree vs. position:
- Upmost describes “the highest” or “farthest up” (hence, the “up” to denote position).
- Utmost describes something of the greatest degree, urgency, number, quantity, or something located the farthest point out.
What does utmost mean?
The word utmost (sometimes written as uttermost) is an adjective that means “most extreme,” “greatest,” or “of the greatest or highest degree, quantity, number, or amount.” In most cases, we use this adjective to emphasize the importance or seriousness of something.
- “Performing well in school is of the utmost importance.”
- “We have the utmost respect and adoration of health care professionals.”
- “The child speaks with the utmost sincerity ever seen.”
- “Your teacher expressed her utmost concern over your grammar homework.”
Less commonly, the adjective can describe something located from the farthest or most distance point (from a center).
- “We plan to research the utmost regions of the Antarctic continent.”
- “Is it okay if we drive to the utmost point of the island?”
- “The papers are located on the utmost end of the desk.”
Utmost also occurs as a noun to reference the most extreme, the best of one’s abilities, or the greatest amount or degree possible (commonly written as “the utmost”).
- “Students must do the utmost to gain entrance to top tier schools.”
- “She did the utmost to ensure we could visit in July.”
- “Our grandparents demand the utmost of respect from their family.”
Adj. 1: Biggest, consummate, full, greatest, high, largest, last, max, maximum, most, outside, paramount, supreme, top, topmost, unequaled, unmatched, ultimate, utter, uttermost.
Adj. 2: Farthermost, farthest, furthermost, furthest, outermost, outmost, rearmost, remotest, sternmost.
Noun: Best, extreme, max, maximum, most, outside, ultimate.
Adj. 1: Least, littlest, lessened, littlest, low, lowest, minimal, minimum, minutest, slightest, smallest, tiniest.
Adj. 2: Inmost, innermost, median, middle, midmost, nearest.
Noun: Least, minimum.
Etymology of utmost
The word utmost comes from Old English ūtmest, a superlative adjective containing the adverb ūt– (‘out’) with –mest (‘most’).
What does upmost mean?
The adjective upmost is an uncommon variant of uppermost, both meaning the farthest up, at the highest level, rank, or in the most prominent position.
- “We live on the upmost floor of the apartment building.”
- “Can you grab that pile of books from the upmost shelf?”
- “For some parents, academic performance remains upmost in their minds.”
Higher, highest, loftier, loftiest, top, topmost, upper, uppermost.
Bottommost, lower, lowermost, lowest, under, underneath, undermost.
Usage note: upmost vs. uppermost
To be clear, upmost and uppermost are different words with the same definition, although uppermost occurs as an adjective and adverb. Nonetheless, it is (technically) grammatically correct to use either word in the same manner, whether it’s to denote:
1.) Something located on the “topmost” position;
2.) Something that is ranked highest above all others, or;
3.) Something ranked figuratively by degree (such as in one’s mind or thoughts).
The tricky part about using upmost in place of uppermost is that the majority of spell checkers will try to correct “upmost” to “uppermost” or, even worse, switch the spelling to “utmost.”
There are two explanations for this, starting with how uppermost is the preferred synonym for current English. Secondly, because uppermost is a distinct word from upmost, it is sometimes correct to use the term to mean utmost for phrasing like “uppermost importance” (an infrequent occurrence). For example,
“Rearing her five children was of uppermost importance to Mimi, a philosophy that she continued with her grandchildren and niece.” — Roanoke Times
Our best advice is to use uppermost in place of upmost and to avoid either up– term in place of where utmost is more appropriate.
Common writing errors for upmost and utmost
Now that we have a basic understanding of what upmost and utmost mean, it’s time to explore how these terms are commonly misused in Modern English.
“Upmost importance” or “utmost importance”?
One of the most common writing errors with upmost and utmost occurs with words like importance, concern, or respect. For example, can you tell which of the following sentences is correct?
“We have the utmost respect for the struggling writer.”
“The writers hold the upmost respect at the academy.”
“The writer maintains the upmost importance.”
“Preserving creative writers is of the utmost importance.”
The correct word for each sentence is “utmost” because it emphasizes a degree of something (in this case, it’s respect or importance). “Upmost” (or “uppermost“) is incorrect because it describes things literally located at a higher point above others.
“I see now—I know now with utmost conviction—that this fantasy represented a wish to create a substitute father.” — The New Yorker
“… the city appeared to have been kickstarted back to life with the utmost grandeur.” — British Vogue
“The library will not have access to any names as privacy is an utmost concern.” — Salamanca Press
Upmost or utmost… in one’s mind, heart, or thoughts
Another common mistake with upmost and utmost occurs with phrases like “utmost/upmost in one’s mind.” The correct word to use is upmost (commonly written as “uppermost”) as it figuratively ranks or positions something at the forefront of one’s mind, heart, and so on.
“It’s a market that hasn’t been upmost in the minds of developers, who see more profits in luxury.” — The New York Times
“Sectarian allegiances, anger over crippling power cuts and entrenched corruption will be uppermost in the minds of Iraqis who are voting for the 329-seat parliament.” — Bloomberg
“But Sandia is principally a weapons lab, and it is military matters that are uppermost in the mind of the project’s leader, Chet Weiss.” — The Economist
“Uppermost in her thoughts were the many unsung heroes of the theatre world who have been left out of pocket during the pandemic.” — The Sunday Post
Upmost vs. utmost for a physical location
When utmost describes something as “furthest out,” it looks something like this:
“Nestled in a grove at the utmost point of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Mediterranean plants climb its otherwise bare flanks towards the roof of terracotta tiles.” — Monaco Tribune
“… and at the last moment, just as the ball was about to hit the ground, lunged at full extension, snagged the ball in the utmost tip of my glove, and belly-flopped onto the grass.” — The New Yorker
When writers want to describe something as “higher in elevation,” the word upmost is almost always tossed aside in favor of uppermost.
“… but students who end up living on the uppermost floors won’t be able to enjoy the ocean views that Santa Barbara is famous for…” — CBS Los Angeles
“Grab the cookie jar and place it on the uppermost shelf on top of the cupboard.” — MSN
“The incident at Krafla is one of three recent encounters with surprise magma pockets in Earth’s uppermost crust…” — National Geographic
“… while the tower’s uppermost six levels host extraordinary penthouses with rooftop terraces.” — Architect Magazine
How to remember the difference between upmost and utmost?
The best way to remember upmost from utmost is to associate their prefixes with similar words.
Upmost and uppermost incorporate the adverb up- as a prefix (“towards a higher place or position”). Use the meaning of “up” to recall the position of something that is “up on top.”
Utmost starts with ut– (“out”), the same prefix found in the word utter (“complete, absolute”). Use the meaning of “ut” to remember how utmost can mean “furthest out” and the meaning of “utter” for when utmost describes “the greatest amount or extent possible.”
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Test how well you understand the difference between upmost and utmost with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: The word utmost means “greatest degree” in British English, while upmost means “highest degree” for American English.
- True or false?: Uppermost is a more common word than upmost.
- The word upmost is an adjective meaning ______________.
a. Greatest possible degree
b. Farthest point
c. Highest position
d. Greatest urgency
- As a noun, the word utmost means __________.
a. Greatest extent
b. Most extreme
c. Maximum amount
d. All of the above
- Choose the correct synonym for upmost.
- Which is not a synonym of utmost?
- Which of the following sentences is incorrect?
a. “Jess lives on the upmost floor of a building nearby.”
b. “We have the utmost respect for your president.”
c. “They plan to visit the upmost tip of the island in June.”
d. “The kids share the utmost contempt for those cookies.”
- Which of the following sentences is incorrect?
a. “Do you see the uppermost book on the shelf?”
b. “Facebook claims privacy is of the uppermost importance.”
c. “Nick fell off the uppermost step of the ladder.”
d. None of the above
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Photo contributors: Cristina Gottardi and Jan Kahánek on Unsplash.