Submitted by Thảo on May 3, 2011

Common vs. Commonplace

What is the difference between “common” and “commonplace”? In which situation can I replace “common” by “commonplace”?


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Hmm, I respectfully disagree, Kyle. I would say it's just the opposite; I can't think of any situation in regular conversation where a person can't use "common" as a replacement for "commonplace.” (Although I’m not clear on the distinction between spelling “commonplace” as one word or two. Also, according to the dictionary, there is an archaic meaning for “commonplace” that indicates a passage in a book used for reference.)

On the other hand, one cannot substitute "commonplace" for "common" when meaning something used or held jointly by more than one person. "The apartment building has a common garden" (used jointly by the tenants.) "Commonplace" in this sentence would suggest that the garden was unremarkable or lackluster. Likewise, "the two friends had common interests." Their interest could be in the Russian folk dances of the 18th Century, not a commonplace hobby.

Also, "common" can have the sense of being vulgar or coarse, as in, "All the people in the restaurant had their elbows on the table. It was so common!" If one were to substitute the word "commonplace" there, the sentence would imply that was an ordinary habit (perhaps of foreign culture, say.)

To me, the words are fully interchangeable for all the other senses. In addition to the more negative connotations of hackneyed or trite, “commonplace” shares the meaning of being prevalent, ordinary or ubiquitous. “While one rarely sees horses-drawn carriages in a big metropolis, in Central Park they are a commonplace sight.” Of course, one might argue that hackneys are hackneyed.

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Commonplace = overused and nothing unusual

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I think Aleksandra might be referring to the fact that "commonplace" (one word) has the meaning "ordinary" with the connotation "trite," "overused," and "uninteresting." Something makes me think that "common place" (two words) became a synonym for "common" by analogy. I can't think of any situation in which you can't use "common place" as a replacement for "common," but I prefer the concision and precision of "common."

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Although, there is considerable overlap of meaning, there is the difference. "Common" is word that predominantly means that something has no special distinction or quality, that it is average, ordinary and usual. "Commonplace" can add to "common" some kind of negative value judgement, like that something is dull and unexciting or repeated too often.

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