Indecisive vs. Indefinite vs. Indeterminate

How to use "indecisive," "indefinite," and "indeterminate" correctly

This is an entry on my list of Common Errors in English Usage. Visit the main page for direct links to additional entries.

The word indecisive should only be used to suggest difficulty making up one’s mind; therefore, it should only be used to describe a person (or something else with a mind):

indecisive leader continually vacillated between going forward with the project and canceling it

Indefinite and indeterminate are similar in usage and can both mean “vague; not precisely determined”:

delayed for an indecisive period of time

delayed for an indefinite period of time

of an indeterminate age, appearing both young and old simultaneously

Indeterminate can also mean “not known in advance”:

complex project involving many indeterminate costs

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

© 2006, 2008, and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.