Claire Kehrwald Cook, in her Line by Line, noted that critique as a verb “has not yet won full acceptance.” That was more than thirty years ago, and nowadays a great many scholarly writers use critique as a verb routinely and without blinking. But Cook also observed, though in passing, that the meaning of critique, “to give a critical examination of,” differs from that of criticize or review (174).
The difference is important. Merriam-Webster defines the noun critique as “a careful judgment in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something (such as a piece of writing or a work of art)” but points out its overlap with criticism:
Criticism usually means “the act of criticizing” or a “remark or comment that expresses disapproval,” but it can also refer to the activity of making judgments about the qualities of books, movies, etc. (as in “literary criticism”). Critique is a somewhat formal word that typically refers to a careful judgment in which someone gives an opinion about something.
The overlap notwithstanding, here is a reasonable example of why maintaining a distinction matters: On the one hand, “The ballet instructor critiqued the dancer’s pirouette” could mean that the ballet dancer performed an excellent pirouette but that the teacher gave the dancer pointers to make it dazzling. On the other hand, “The reviewer criticized the dancer’s pirouette” means that the reviewer regarded the dancer’s performance unfavorably.
The formal prose required in scholarly writing can make writers hesitant to use simple, down-to-earth words, lest their authority appear questionable. But the preference for critique in academic writing often erases the valuable difference between the two words.
Cook, Claire Kehrwald. Line by Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing. Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
“Critique, N.” Merriam-Webster.com, 2016, www.merriam-Webster.com/dictionary/critique.
Julie Branin 17 October 2017 AT 01:10 PM
I was looking for a comparison of critique and exposee.
Mohamed Jiwa 22 April 2018 AT 04:04 PM
Critique is an adaptation from French, used in English, to help improve quality of work offered by a constituent or stakeholder. It is gentler than Criticism which is nearly the same - a critical response - except it is not always invited and can be an ego buster.
LWE 25 January 2020 AT 12:01 AM
In general, it seems to me that people use “criticism” or “criticize” where a harsher word like condemn/ation or denounce would be more appropriate.
Lisa 26 May 2021 AT 08:05 PM
I noticed that this passage talks about critism and Critique.
Join the Conversation
We invite you to comment on this post and exchange ideas with other site visitors. Comments are moderated and subject to terms of service.
If you have a question for the MLA's editors, submit it to Ask the MLA!