in·​com·​men·​su·​ra·​ble ˌin-kə-ˈmen(t)-s(ə-)rə-bəl How to pronounce incommensurable (audio)
: not commensurable
broadly : lacking a basis of comparison in respect to a quality normally subject to comparison
incommensurability noun
incommensurable noun
ˌin-kə-ˈmen(t)-s(ə-)rə-blē How to pronounce incommensurable (audio)

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Commensurable means "having a common measure" or "corresponding in size, extent, amount, or degree." Its antonym incommensurable generally refers to things that are unlike and incompatible, sharing no common ground ("incommensurable theories"), or to things that are very disproportionate, often to the point of defying comparison ("incommensurable crimes"). Both words entered English in the 1500s and were originally used (as they still can be) for numbers that have or don't have a common divisor. They came to English by way of Middle French and Late Latin, ultimately deriving from the Latin noun mensura, meaning "measure." Mensura is also an ancestor of commensurate (meaning "coextensive" or "proportionate") and incommensurate ("disproportionate" or "insufficient"), which overlap in meaning with commensurable and incommensurable but are not exact synonyms.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Over and over, videos emerged, revealing how often police narratives were incommensurable with what actually happened. Brooke Jarvis, New York Times, 8 Mar. 2023 Clearly, money has been the source of immense human suffering but its benefits are so incommensurable that nobody seriously promotes the idea of prohibiting money, although some libertarian societies in the early 20th century did. Keith Kloor, Discover Magazine, 27 Apr. 2011 This misses the reality that despite our common humanity grounded in human universals which makes communication across the chasm of culture possible, there are also deep abiding incommensurable values even among extant societies! Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 21 Apr. 2011 In other words, spaces created with unmeasurable elements, which give an illusion of incommensurable continuity. Cullen Murphy, The Atlantic, 7 Nov. 2022 The distance implies an incommensurable gap in experience that the camera, and even personal acquaintance, can’t overcome. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 10 Aug. 2022 The progression suggests that one way fiction might approach the depiction of capitalist totality and its impossible forms is by presenting it, however futilely, through incommensurable shards. Jane Hu, The Atlantic, 26 May 2022 This meant that the sacred and the profane lived cheek by jowl—intimately connected and yet incommensurable with each other. Peter Brown, The New York Review of Books, 24 Sep. 2020 This was inimical to long-term functional currency status just as over-abundant incommensurable dialects and over-frequent meaning-changes would be inimical to a functional lingua franca. Robert Hockett, Forbes, 28 June 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'incommensurable.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1570, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of incommensurable was in 1570


Dictionary Entries Near incommensurable

Cite this Entry

“Incommensurable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Jun. 2023.

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