Inexpensive vs Cheap = synonyms?

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New Member
Argentinian Spanish
Could I use both words as synonyms?

I think there is a small diference between them, but I would like to confirm this idea with you guys.

By example: If I´d go to the supermarket, I could probably say that beans weren´t inexpensive, they were really cheap!

I mean, "cheap" refers to cheaper stuff than "inexpensive" ones.

Thanks a lot.
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    Welcome to the forums, Leitus,

    You raise a good question. The answer may be different depending on the variety of English one speaks. In AE (American English) these words are sometimes used as synonyms, but not always.

    When an item or service is perceived as costing the buyer less than is normally expected, the price or the item or service may be called either inexpensive or cheap.
    This signals that it is relatively less than one would normally expect to pay for something of similar value. In this case, cheap is more a colloquial term, and inexpensive is of a higher register. The meaning is the same.

    In other circumstances, cheap is used to describe quality, either in addition to a low price, or without reference to price. "Cheap merchandise" can mean poor quality merchandise.

    If you provide specific example sentences, we can see what differences, if any, exist for the two terms.


    New Member
    Argentinian Spanish
    Hi mate!

    I actually do not have a good example, because I heard "inexpensive" while I was watching TV (a britain cooking programme on "Travel and Living" channel) and decided to write a quick note on the site.
    But your explanation was very clear and it´s no neccesary to have one.

    Thanks for your quick answer cuchuflete.

    - Leo, from Buenos Aires, Argentina.


    Senior Member
    United States, English
    This is an example of the "double register" in English. We often have two words which mean the same thing, but carry different connotations. The polysyllabic word, usually derived from French or Latin, sounds more cultured, refined, polite, while the monosyllable, usually from Anglo Saxon, sounds more blunt, direct, and sometimes crude, offensive, or obscene.

    That's why cheap can mean poor quality as well as low price, where inexpensive refers only to the price.

    Here's an example of the old children's song Three blind mice translated (as a joke) into the upper register

    Three blind mice,
    See how they run.
    They all ran after the farmer's wife;
    She cut off their tails with a carving knife,
    Did ever you see such a sight in your life
    As three blind mice?

    Three rodents with defective eyesight,
    Observe how they perambulate
    They all pursued the agriculturalist's spouse;
    She amputated their caudal appendages with an acute instrument,
    Did ever you observe such a spectacle in your existence
    As three rodents with defective eyesight?

    In pairs having to do with bodily functions and parts, the short word can be obscene or offensive, while the long word can be used in polite conversation or medical terminology:
    uterus -- womb
    penis -- cock, dick
    feces -- shit
    sexual intercourse, coitus -- fuck

    This is why we use the expression "four letter words" meaning offensive words.


    New Member
    Argentinian Spanish
    Thanks Fullyone! Your comment was totally fantastic. I learnt and understood a lot about polysyllabic and monopolysyllabic meaning words in english.
    I have been studying this language for a lot, and never have been taught such an important diference.

    - Leo
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