Language can be confusing at times, especially with words that sound similar to one another. Such is the case with mute and moot. Although they do have different pronunciations, they sound pretty close to each other when you say them out loud, and native and nonnative speakers alike mix up these two words in conversation and in writing.
So is it a mute point or a moot point? Good question. Today I want to go over both of these words, show you their definitions and functions within sentences, and give you a few ways that you can remember them in the future.
When to Use Mute
Mute can function as an adjective, verb, and a noun. It is probably used most frequently as an adjective and is defined as, refraining from producing speech or sound. For example,
- He was so scared during the investigation that he became mute.
- Jill, the talkative one, was now mute after hearing the news.
Using mute as a verb is also quite common, and, when it is, it is a transitive verb, so an object will be close. It is defined as, to soften or muffle the sound, tone, color, shade, or hue of. For example,
- Please everyone; mute your cell phones during the movie.
- I think this picture would even better if you muted some of the reds.
As a noun, mute is defined as, one who is incapable of speech. This usage, however, is generally considered offensive.
When to Use Moot
Moot can also function as an adjective, verb, and noun, but it almost always used as an adjective. As an adjective, it is defined as subject to debate; arguable or unsettled or of no practical importance; irrelevant. For example,
- It is a moot point whether taxes help or hurt economic growth.
- I’m not sure what difference it makes anymore; the point has become moot.
As you can see, moot has two oddly different definitions that emphasize different things. When you are using moot, you should be sure the context of your sentence makes clear which sense of moot you are using. In British English, it is common to see moot used in both sense, but in American English, you almost always see moot used to mean pointless or irrelevant.
Moot as a Verb
As a verb, moot has similar definitions as its adjective form, to discuss or debate and to render a subject irrelevant. For example,
- The idea of mind-body dualism has been mooted in philosophy circles for years.
- The cellular phone has mooted landlines.
Moot as a Noun
As a noun, moot has different meaning altogether. It is a hypothetical case argued by law students as practice. For example,
- I need to prepare for my moot tomorrow.
Origin of Moot
So how did the meanings of moot become so different? Well, the origin of moot and its uses are actually quite interesting.
The adjective moot has been around since the 1500s and was originally a legal term. It comes from the noun moot described above as a hypothetical case that law students would argue as practice. As a result, a moot question became one that is debatable or open for argument.
In the mid-1800s, however, people also began to look at the hypothetical side of moot as the word’s essential meaning, and they started using the word to mean pointless or of no significant value. Therefore, a moot point, no matter how debatable it is, is of no practical significance.
Many people throughout the years have objected to this shift in the usage of moot, but it is increasingly becoming accepted and is commonly used in everyday conversation and writing.
Both are acceptable, but it’s important to keep your audience in mind when using these words.
For British English writers it may be appropriate to use both senses, but in American English, moot as “pointless” is much more common and to use it as “debatable” would only serve to confuse your readers.
Moot vs. Mute
Inexperienced English users can easily get tricked by “moot” and “mute”, maybe even tempted to pronounce them the same. But even though they sound similarly, they are spelled quite differently and surely define completely distinct concepts.
Check the meanings of “moot” and “mute” below to make sure you never misspell these words or get confused by them in any message. We’ll tell you how to use them correctly in just a few minutes!
Moot vs. Mute
Officially, “moot” is used mainly as an adjective, this is how you will find it defined in most of the basic English dictionaries or user’s guides. Even so, in the usual vocabulary, moot can also function as various other parts of speech, or more exactly, verb and noun.
“Mute”, on the other hand, is used both as an adjective and as a verb. But it has no relation to “moot” and the words must never be confused one for the other.
When do we use “moot”?
Mainly used as an adjective, “moot” usually appears in front of the noun “point”. The expression “moot point” refers to a certain subject that people can’t agree about. The word describes something uncertain, disputed, debatable. Anyway, in usual conversations, “moot” can also appear as a verb or as a noun. As a verb, it defines the action of suggesting a topic, an idea, a possibility or a question for further discussions or debates; as a noun, the word is rarely used and only in specialized domains, as a technical term: in history, “moot” refers to an assembly which is held for debate, while in law, the noun defines the judicial procedure of examining a hypothetical possibility/fact/case, as an exercise in an academic context.
Example 1: They’ve come to a moot point and nobody was ready to listen another opinion anymore. – “mute” as an adjective describes something disputed and uncertain that people can’t agree about.
Example 2: I am trying to moot a new scheme for our management method, get ready for a long debate. – “moot”, as a verb, refers to suggesting a new concept for further debates.
Example 3: In medieval times, a moot was something very common. – as a noun, “moot” is used in historical contexts, referring to an assembly held for debate.
Example 4: The tutor has scheduled a moot for next week, in order to help students practice their ability of developing and presenting their arguments. – in the legal context, “moot” can also be used as a noun, referring to an academic exercise of examining a hypothetical case.
When do we use “mute”?
This is quite simpler than “moot”, mainly because its meaning is easier to understand and remember, referring to the same concept both as an adjective and as a verb. “Mute” appears defined as an adjective describing either the physical or mental medical condition of not being able to speak, or something expressed only in thoughts, but not in writing or in a speech. The word, anyway, can also function as a verb, referring to the action of muffling or softening the sound of something in order to make it silent or “mute”, as the adjective would define it.
Example 1: The officer remained mute about whether he would talk to his superiors or not about the incident. – “mute”, as an adjective, can refer to not expressing something in a speech or in writing, but only in thoughts.
Example 2: Mute kids are also competent and able to learn very fast, and there are special schools to help them evolve. – also used as an adjective, “mute” can be used to describe the medical condition of not being able to speak.
Example 3: Please mute your microphone because there’s too much noise on your background. – as a verb, “mute” refers to reducing something to silence or to making something “mute”, as the adjective would describe it.Conclusion
Even though they might sound very similar, there is nothing that “moot” and “mute” have in common. They define different concepts and are used in ever so different contexts, so not confusing them is actually easy and natural once you understand their meanings. Make sure you don’t use “moot” instead of “mute” or vice versa because they’ll obviously become serious misspellings.
The meaning of ‘moot’ is a moot point – whichever variety of English you speak | Mind your language
If the past tense of take is took, why shouldn’t the past tense of meet be moot? (“They moot by moonlight.”) Sadly it isn’t, but moot remains a lovely and versatile word, equally at home as noun, adjective or verb – and with contrasting meanings, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are using it.
A magical Country diary by my favourite Guardian writer, Paul Evans, discussed some of the stories surrounding hawthorn trees and noted: “Hawthorns marked moots, or assemblies to decide issues of local importance … this one may still be a ‘moot point’ – something arguable, undecided, contested, its original function lost generations ago.”
In a complex but fascinating entry about this word, the OED confirms that moot, which dates back to the 11th century, originally meant “a meeting, an assembly of people, esp one for judicial or legislative purposes. Also: a place where a meeting is held.” Sometimes a moot-bell would be rung to summon people to a moot, where they could moot their arguments.
In a more specialised legal meaning, dating from the 16th century, a moot is “the discussion of a hypothetical case by law students for practice; a hypothetical doubtful case that may be used for discussion”. Students might refer to a moot-book containing legal cases – moots – to be discussed.
Later a moot point, initially a legal issue, became used more widely to mean one that was open to argument, debatable or uncertain. The author Gerald Durrell used it in this sense when he wrote: “Whether he could have bitten us successfully … was rather a moot point, but it was not the sort of experiment I cared to make.”
Today, I think most British English speakers would use moot in this sense, or as a verb to mean proposed (“Banking: plan mooted for merger of trade associations” ran a typical headline this week).
It’s a different story in the United States, where since the 19th century a moot point has been one that is at best academic and at worst irrelevant. The OED quotes the supreme court, no less, ruling that “a moot question” has “no bearing” on an issue.
So in 2000, Time magazine, writing about the US election, said: “Media critics have long argued that networks should not call races until all polls have closed to avoid affecting turnout. It’s a moot argument: information will out.”
Just to complicate things, the older meaning of moot as in a hypothetical discussion by law students survives in the US, unchanged, in the moot courts at which American law students practise their skills in simulated legal proceedings.
Using moot to mean not open to debate, rather than its opposite, sounds odd to me, but that’s only because I learned English in Macclesfield, rather than Massachusetts. And it’s hardly a unique example of words that mean something different in the UK and US.
We normally cope perfectly well with this: when my former American girlfriend casually dropped the word “suspenders” into the conversation, I was well aware that, sadly, she was referring to my then on-trend red braces rather than any item of her own apparel.
Lynne Murphy’s fine blog separated by a common language is a good place to keep up to date on such different meanings, and how they cross the Atlantic in what in fact is a process of exchange. (In the UK, we get bake-off; in the US, they gain gap year.)
You just need to be aware that when an American says something is “moot” they might not mean the same as a British person – an issue particularly relevant to the Guardian, a British newspaper with more readers in the US than the UK. Either way, please, please don’t spell it “mute point”.
The last word goes to PG Wodehouse, who wrote that he lived in “an age full of Moot Questions”, adding inimitably: “Some mooter than others.”
Commonly Confused Words: Moot vs. Mute
What does each word mean?
If something is moot, it is open to argument or debate. Moot can also be used to describe something that is insignificant or irrelevant.Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.
Here is moot used in an example sentence:
Click here to create a Spellzone vocabulary list using the word moot.
The verb mute describes the act of muffling or silencing a noise. As a noun, mute is used to refer to both someone who is unable to speak and something used to soften the sound of an instrument. As an adjective, the word describes someone who is unable to speak.
Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.
Here is mute used in some example sentences:
- He muted the television while the commercials were on.
- The man was as silent as a mute.
- She stood there, mute, while as she processed what her friend was saying.
Click here to find Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word mute.
Where does each word come from?
Moot derives from the Old English ‘motian’ which means ‘to meet, talk, discuss’. The word has been used in English since the twelfth century.
Mute first entered English as ‘mewet’ in the late fourteenth century from the Old French ‘muet’ meaning ‘dumb, mute’.
By the 1570s the word was used to describe a ‘stage actor in a dumb show’ and by the 1610s to a ‘person who does not speak’.
The word was first used in reference something that muted a musical instrument in 1811 and later to describe the act of muffling a sound in 1861.
Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between moot and mute?
Use rhyming words to help you remember the spellings of each word:
- moot rhymes with boot
- mute rhymes with cute.
- Where can I find other posts about easy-to-confuse words?
- Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.
- 30 Jan 2018
Moot Point vs. Mute Point
You may have heard coworkers or acquaintances refer to an inconsequential or irrelevant point as a moot point, or maybe you’ve heard mute point instead. Fans of the TV show Friends may have heard a third variation: moo point (because, according to Joey, a cow’s opinion doesn’t matter). But which expression is correct, and what exactly does it mean?
The correct phrase is moot point. A moot point can be either an issue open for debate, or a matter of no practical value or importance because it’s hypothetical. The latter is more common in modern American English.
The term comes from British law where it describes a hypothetical point of discussion used as teaching exercise for law students.
This finds its roots in an early noun sense of moot: “an assembly of the people in early England exercising political, administrative, and judicial powers.”
The word mute means “silent; refraining from speech or utterance,” and the pairing mute point has no canonized meaning in standard English. However, it’s easy to imagine how this mistake might make sense in some contexts, and perhaps that’s why it’s so frequently confused with moot point.
In a book of wordplay called Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21 st Century, Liesl Schillinger humorously defines a mute point as follows: “When somebody in a group makes a good suggestion, but somehow nobody hears it.
” In a similar vein, Urban Dictionary defines it as “addressing the participants of a conference call while your phone is on mute.”
As for moo point, Joey may be waiting until the cows come home for this creative coinage to catch on.