Equal vs. Equitable – What’s the Difference?

Equal and equitable are similar words with similar meanings, so it can be tempting to substitute them for each other without worrying much about their true meanings. This problem is especially true in academic writing, where overly decorative prose can unfortunately be rewarded for its own sake.

Though their meanings can overlap in some contexts, equal and equitable are distinct words that should be used intentionally. Continue reading to learn more.

What is the Difference Between Equal and Equitable?

In this post, I will compare equitable vs. equal. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that you can use as a reminder of whether equitable or equal is a better word for your sentence.

When to Use Equitable

equal versus equitableWhat does equitable mean? Equitable is an adjective that means fair or impartial.

Something that is equitable does not unduly benefit one person more than any other person.

For example,

  • Dividing the remaining food evenly amongst the three survivors is the most equitable solution.
  • An equitable plan would consider the well-being of everyone involved, without being influenced by favoritism or outside interests.
  • It is not difficult to understand why the United States would seek more equitable spending from NATO allies, but Washington gains more from the security architecture NATO enshrines than it would from marginal increases in European defense spending. –The Washington Post

Equitable also has a legal sense, where it means able to be considered as equity. Equity means a share in something, like a house, a company, or other property. This usage is rare, though, and seldom appears outside of technical legal documents.

When to Use Equal

Definition of equitable definition and definition of equal definitionWhat does equal mean? Equal, another adjective, has a broader meaning than equitable. Equal means even or balanced. Since something which is even or balanced is also often fair, equal can be a synonym of equitable in some circumstances.

Two glasses that have the same amount of water in them hold equal amounts of water. However, two glasses containing the same amount of water wouldn’t be said to have equitable amounts of water.

The phrase equal rights refers to the idea that all people are entitled to the same basic treatment under most circumstances.

For example,

  • If you mix equal parts of iced coffee and milk, you will have a refreshing beverage to enjoy on a hot summer morning.
  • Equal measures of trust and respect are crucial to maintaining a fulfilling and successful relationship.
  • All things being equal, companies that are shifted from popular indexes are likely to see their share prices fall because investors who track the benchmark are no longer required to hold the stock in question. –The Wall Street Journal

Equal can also be a verb, where it means to be the same.

  • Two plus two equals four.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define equitable and define equalEquitable and equal can both mean even or fair in some contexts. Most of the time, though, they cannot be interchanged. In order to keep these words straight, let’s go over a trick to remember equal vs. equitable.

Equitable only applies in the context of fairness or equal treatment. Equal, meanwhile, refers to any two things which are the same: equal volumes of water in two containers, equal scores in a sporting event, or equal measurements on all four sides of a square.

Since equal refers to so many contexts where some sort of math is involved, remember that the symbol = in math problems is an equal sign.

Summary

Is it equal or equitable? Equal and Equitable are adjectives that describe sameness or evenness.

  • Equal can refer to quantity, volume, measurement, and most other contexts involving sameness
  • Equitable only refers to similar treatment, whereas.

To summarize,

  • Use equitable for a sense of fairness.
  • Use equal in other contexts where two things are the same.