Effective or Efficient?

Generally speaking if something has an effect it is effective and if something works well it is efficient. So a system would be efficient but a policy would be effective.

In Swedish you have the word effektiv, whereas in English we have effective (has an effect) and efficient (works well), which have different meanings. Something can be efficient without being effective and vice versa.

  • If the members of a football team play really well together but lose their match they are efficient but not effective
  • If the members of a football team play really badly together but win their match they are effective but not efficient.
  • Guy 1: I am so efficient I can fold 100 parachutes in a hour.
  • Guy 2: I am so effective I can fold 100 parachutes and every single one of them will open right.

Would you rather give your parachutes to the efficient or to the effective guy?

The words effective and efficient are usually used together but if you are in doubt, use effective. However, if you are describing the relationship between input and output, efficient is good.


  1. What is the opposite of efficient?
  2. If you have small input and large output, what word would you use?
  3. If you have large input and small output what word would you use?
  4. A policy would be ____________________?
  5. A system would be ________________?
  6. A headache tablet would be ______________?

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

One thought

  1. Thanks for posting this! I know this wasn’t the intended purpose, but I found while trying to think up questions for the engineering summer camps I am working on, I was thinking back to this post on efficiency vs effectiveness. It’s a great concept to get kids thinking on the balance that machines and other technology need to have.

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