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General Writing and Grammar Help/usage of the word "impotent"

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Question
Dear Ted,
I know that one meaning of the word "impotent" is "powerless". My question is can you use the word "impotent" in combination with the word "to"? I can't think of one time I heard that word combination. In other words, are the following sentences grammatically correct?
1. I'm impotent to change things.
2. I'm impotent to help you.
3. I'm impotent to stop my husband from cheating on me.
4. The police are impotent to stop crime.

Answer
Dear Glen:

Dear Ted,
I know that one meaning of the word "impotent" is "powerless". My question is
can you use the word "impotent" in combination with the word "to"? I can't think
of one time I heard that word combination. In other words, are the following
sentences grammatically correct?
1. I'm impotent to change things.
2. I'm impotent to help you.
3. I'm impotent to stop my husband from cheating on me.
4. The police are impotent to stop crime.

*** You ask such interesting questions.  Although I, too, have never seen or heard "impotent" used as you have written in your four options, I cannot think of any reason WHY it cannot be used.  I think that "powerless" is a more common word, and most people would choose it over "impotent."

The police are impotent to stop crime.
The police are powerless to stop crime.

These two sentences mean the same thing.  The same comparisons of the other three sentences also reveal that "powerless" is a good substitute for "impotent."

So, Glen, you may be grammatically correct in using "impotent," but most people would rather hear the word "powerless."

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.

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

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