Congruent vs. Congruous

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What’s the difference between congruent and congruous? The distinction is slight, as the meanings are nearly identical. However, the former term is usually employed quantitatively, while the latter word is generally used qualitatively.

The noun congruence and its adjectival form congruent refer to agreement or coincidence. In geometry, the words denote having the same size and shape — as in a description of identical parallel lines or of corresponding lines in two geometrical figures that are mirror images of each other; congruence also has other applications in higher mathematics. The respective antonyms are incongruence and incongruent.

Congruous also means “in agreement,” as well as “appropriate,” “corresponding,” and “harmonious.” The term is more likely to be used in an aesthetic sense. Interestingly, the former word’s antonym, incongruous, is more frequently employed than its opposite, usually to refer to something unsettlingly out of place in its surroundings.

A noun related to both congruent and congruous is congruity, which refers to the state of being congruent or congruous, as well as meaning “a point of agreement.” Incongruity is the noun form of incongruous.

The origin of this family of terms is the Latin word congruere.

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