- Impactful emerged in the 1960s as an adjective meaning “manifesting a great effect or impact.”
- Some critics reject impactful as an illogical, unnecessary, and clumsy piece of jargon.
- Yes, impactful is a word, but it’s likely to annoy at least some of your readers. If you want to substitute another word for impactful, use a synonym such as influential, powerful, or effective.
Are all the words in the dictionary equal? Some people feel that certain words are better than others. In particular, they find fault with impactful. Discover why this word gets picked on and decide for yourself if the criticism is valid.
First, how is impactful defined? According to Oxford Dictionaries, impactful is an adjective that means “having a major impact or effect.” Notice its use in these quotes from the media:
But since it’s the summer, and since we can, here’s a look at arguments for the most impactful player and coach in each conference’s hunt for a spot in the sport’s final four. ―Sports Illustrated
You don’t just want to be another think tank. Everything we do should be impactful, but we don’t have to do every impactful thing. ―DallasNews.com
The Debate: Is Anything Wrong With Impactful?
Plenty of people use impactful. But plenty of other people can’t stand it. On Quora, one commenter called it “a mangled [derivative] . . . that has been smuggled in through the back door of our collective consciousness.” Why mangled? The suffix simply means “full of” or “having the quality of.” Other adjectives are formed by adding the suffix -ful to a noun. To a native speaker’s ear, “full of doubt” sounds fine, so doubtful is uncontroversial. “Having the quality of beauty” sounds fine, so beautiful is acceptable, too. However, “full of impact” and “having the quality of impact” sound strange. For some, this is sufficient reason to say impactful is not a word. Dictionary.com rebuts this argument by pointing out that -ful also can be interpreted as “having” or “characterized by,” as in the word lawful. After all, a lawful act isn’t “full of law.”
One blogger who calls herself the Sassy Librarian argues that English never needed impactful: “When some advertising dolt was groping for the word ‘effective’ or ‘influential,’ ‘impactful’ popped into her/his head then tumbled out of her/his mouth.” In short, she argues that impactful is a frivolous word because effective and influential fulfill the same communicative purpose. Let’s define those two terms from the same source. Then, ask yourself whether they are exact synonyms of impactful or not.
Effective means “successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Could something have a major effect without achieving the intended result? Definitely. Therefore, effective is not an exact synonym. Influential, on the other hand, which means “having great influence on someone or something,” seems quite close to impactful. In fact, the same dictionary defines impact as “a marked influence.”
What do you think? Does impactful stand shoulder to shoulder with other words in the dictionary or should it be removed and forgotten? If you feel uneasy about its origins, opt for influential. However, if you use impactful, you will help establish it as part of the English language.