Third Wednesday: Inoperative vs. Inoperable

I know the author of the following sentence meant to create empathy for her character.  Instead, I laughed as I imagined the plots of a dozen sci-fi stories inspired by one misused word.

“Belinda sobbed in Matthew’s arms as she revealed she had an inoperative brain tumor.”


Inoperative – not working; not functioning; without effect.

Ben rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the old Royal typewriter, only to discover the “o” key was inoperative.  Once upon a time it worked perfectly.

Without spark plugs, even hybrid vehicles are inoperative.


Inoperable – not operable; not practicable; a medical situation that will not practicably allow a surgical operation.

Because of its location Melanie’s cancer is inoperable.

Geoffrey’s gang of weekend mercenaries deemed his plan to storm the palace and kidnap the princess totally inoperable.


Here’s another look at Inoperative and Inoperable.


Although Melanie’s tumor was the size of an ostrich egg, the doctor refused to say that it was inoperative.

Stephanie stuffed a potato up the tailpipe of her ex’s sports car, relishing the thought of his fury when he discovered it was inoperable.


One tiny line missing from the blueprints rendered the entire rocket stage of the spacecraft inoperative.

Doctor Mentos studied thousands of x-rays to create new ways to conquer inoperable medical conditions in his patients.

While preparing to radiate Melanie’s inoperable tumor, hospital personnel discovered their machinery was inoperative.


Need a memory trick to distinguish these words?  If it’s a piece of machinery, or something that doesn’t work, it is inoperative.  But if it’s a medical condition, it’s all about being “able.”