Language can be confusing at times, especially with words that sound similar to one another. Such is the case with mute and moot. Although they do have different pronunciations, they sound pretty close to each other when you say them out loud, and native and nonnative speakers alike mix up these two words in conversation and in writing.
So is it a mute point or a moot point? Good question. Today I want to go over both of these words, show you their definitions and functions within sentences, and give you a few ways that you can remember them in the future.
When to Use Mute
- He was so scared during the investigation that he became mute.
- Jill, the talkative one, was now mute after hearing the news.
Using mute as a verb is also quite common, and, when it is, it is a transitive verb, so an object will be close. It is defined as, to soften or muffle the sound, tone, color, shade, or hue of. For example,
- Please everyone; mute your cell phones during the movie.
- I think this picture would even better if you muted some of the reds.
As a noun, mute is defined as, one who is incapable of speech. This usage, however, is generally considered offensive.
When to Use Moot
Moot can also function as an adjective, verb, and noun, but it almost always used as an adjective. As an adjective, it is defined as subject to debate; arguable or unsettled or of no practical importance; irrelevant. For example,
- It is a moot point whether taxes help or hurt economic growth.
- I’m not sure what difference it makes anymore; the point has become moot.
As you can see, moot has two oddly different definitions that emphasize different things. When you are using moot, you should be sure the context of your sentence makes clear which sense of moot you are using. In British English, it is common to see moot used in both sense, but in American English, you almost always see moot used to mean pointless or irrelevant.
Moot as a Verb
As a verb, moot has similar definitions as its adjective form, to discuss or debate and to render a subject irrelevant. For example,
- The idea of mind-body dualism has been mooted in philosophy circles for years.
- The cellular phone has mooted landlines.
Moot as a Noun
As a noun, moot has different meaning altogether. It is a hypothetical case argued by law students as practice. For example,
- I need to prepare for my moot tomorrow.
Origin of Moot
So how did the meanings of moot become so different? Well, the origin of moot and its uses are actually quite interesting.
The adjective moot has been around since the 1500s and was originally a legal term. It comes from the noun moot described above as a hypothetical case that law students would argue as practice. As a result, a moot question became one that is debatable or open for argument.
In the mid-1800s, however, people also began to look at the hypothetical side of moot as the word’s essential meaning, and they started using the word to mean pointless or of no significant value. Therefore, a moot point, no matter how debatable it is, is of no practical significance.
Many people throughout the years have objected to this shift in the usage of moot, but it is increasingly becoming accepted and is commonly used in everyday conversation and writing. Both are acceptable, but it’s important to keep your audience in mind when using these words. For British English writers it may be appropriate to use both senses, but in American English, moot as “pointless” is much more common and to use it as “debatable” would only serve to confuse your readers.