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Passivity vs. Passiveness—What’s the Difference?

Updated on September 16, 2022Grammar
  • Passivity and passiveness are nouns derived from the adjective passive.
  • Both nouns mean the same thing and are often listed as synonyms.

Passive is an adjective; a word we use to describe someone or something that is not active. Someone who is lethargic can be described as passive. When we’re allowing something to happen and not doing it ourselves, we’re being passive.

You probably know that you can turn an adjective into a noun by adding the right suffix. In the case of the adjective passive, you can use two different suffixes to create two different nouns with the same meaning.

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Meaning of passivity and passiveness

The two nouns in question are passivity and passiveness. If you look them up in dictionaries, you’ll find that they’re often listed simply as nouns derived from the adjective passive. If you manage to find them defined individually, you can expect the dictionary to tell you that passivity is the state of being passive and that passiveness is the condition of being passive. In most cases, the words are listed as being each other’s synonyms.

The suffix in the word passivity-ity—is generally used with words of Latin origin. And yes, passive is a word of Latin origin. On the other hand, the -ness in passiveness is a suffix native to the English language, and as such can be used on any word, regardless of its origin. That’s why it’s okay to say either passivity or passiveness, though it appears that passivity is the more common one.

Examples of passivity and passiveness

Passivity and passiveness are nouns that denote a state and a condition of someone or something. You can use it when you want to say that someone is not taking an active role in things going on around them, that someone is letting things go by without reacting to them, or that someone is letting something be done to them without resisting:

Played as a prepubescent by Alex Hibbert and as a teen by Ashton Sanders, the character is defined by his passiveness and his isolation, whether sitting in a bath with stove-warmed water, standing out at the shore at dusk or staring into the camera in a school nurse’s office after a severe beating.
Rolling Stone

Then he added the “moment of silence” which in its brevity and passivity (people usually do nothing during a moment of silence, so it is difficult to spot them doing it) is very hard to prove or disprove as having happened.

It is also, more importantly, enabling them to develop into adults with genuine autonomy who have not fallen into the conveyor belt of passivity and victimhood.
The Huffington Post (UK Edition)

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