General Writing and Grammar Help/immoral vs. amoral

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Question
Dear Ted,
I'm confused about the meaning and usage of the words "amoral" and "immoral". I think you use the word "immoral” to describe a person's actions. And I think you use the word "amoral" to describe a person. Is the word "immoral”only used to describe a person's actions, or can it also be used to describe a person? Is the word "amoral” only used to describe a person, or can it also be used to describe a person's actions? In other words, do all of the following sentences make sense and are they all grammatically correct?
1. It's immoral to cheat on a test.
2. It's amoral to cheat on a test.
3. He is an immoral man.
4. He is an amoral man.

Answer
Dear Glen:

  I'm confused about the meaning and usage of the words "amoral" and "immoral". I think you use the word "immoral” to describe a person's actions. And I think you use the word "amoral" to describe a person. Is the word "immoral”only used to describe a person's actions, or can it also be used to describe a person? Is the word "amoral” only used to describe a person, or can it also be used to describe a person's actions? In other words, do all of the following sentences make sense and are they all grammatically correct?
1. It's immoral to cheat on a test.
2. It's amoral to cheat on a test.
3. He is an immoral man.
4. He is an amoral man

*** My Webster's dictionary defines "amoral" as being between "moral" and "immoral." In common usage, "amoral" is used to describe the lack of feeling or knowing the difference between right and wrong.

EXAMPLE:  On a recent TV show I watched, a psychologist remarked that a serial killer had no sense of responsibility for the deaths he caused.  He was "amoral."

Not knowing the difference between right and wrong can be an attribute of many things.
For instance, a young baby is "amoral."  As the baby grows and learns from his parents, he will development a sense of morality and immorality.  But, as a baby, he is "amoral."

A rock is "amoral."  So is a tree.  Chemical elements are amoral.

Let's get back to your sentences:

Three of them are correct, but #2 is not.  Doesn't EVERY test taker know that cheating is wrong [immoral]?  There is no "in between" for doing right or doing wrong.

"Amoral" is a word that is used rarely.  Here's something for you to ponder:  Some people say that Hitler was "immoral."  [That means he KNEW what he did was wrong.]  However, other people say that Hitler had no sense of right or wrong; thus, Hitler was an "amoral man."

I am pasting in below three websites for you to consider.  They essentially say the same thing, but the examples offered are good and help you to understand the difference.

http://www.grammar-monster.com/easily_confused/immoral_amoral.htm

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amoral

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amorality

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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