Definition of incommensurable in US English:



  • 1Not able to be judged by the same standard as something; having no common standard of measurement.

    ‘the two types of science are incommensurable’
    • ‘Difference in such cases is not disagreement, at least on the surface issue; points of view that are incommensurable are different in the very frameworks of explanation.’
    • ‘Without this, the meaning of basic terms will continue to differ, and the research will continue to be incommensurable.’
    • ‘The pressures of the classroom moment do not lend themselves to a dialogue about these underlying and indeed incommensurable differences.’
    • ‘And this is owing to the fact that, while we wanted to overcome temptation, we also wanted to fail, for quite different and incommensurable reasons.’
    • ‘‘Globalization’ is used to refer to different, incommensurable processes which run parallel to one another, but not strictly as part of the same movement.’
    • ‘Two periods of history inherently have such vastly different contexts, issues, and circumstances that they may be incommensurable; thus the specter of anachronism haunts every turn.’
    • ‘These are moral choices which are incommensurable because they appeal on different levels - they are not competing in a logical way, because they are both choices that could be right to a reasonable person.’
    • ‘After all, theoretical purists reject the idea that we should lump different and incommensurable arguments into one broad sweep.’
    • ‘At other times, the children's comments suggest irreconcilable differences and utterly incommensurable world views.’
    • ‘The new social agenda is to recognize and insist on individual varieties, incommensurable differences.’
    • ‘How does one weigh such incommensurable elements?’
    • ‘There were no terms in the Renaissance for what, since the eighteenth century, have been construed as essential signs in the body of incommensurable difference.’
    • ‘It is comforting to consider that real change will be thoroughly unexpected, even incommensurable from the perspective of the present.’
    • ‘It cannot be simply dismissed as incommensurable.’
    • ‘The two goals - reflecting the two sides of modern democratic individualism - were finally incommensurable.’
    • ‘Rather, it is because some, though not all, values are incommensurable.’
    • ‘The opponents and proponents of enclosure are currently locked in battle, each appealing to conflicting and sometimes incommensurable claims about efficiency, innovation, justice, and the limits of the market.’
    • ‘I argued earlier that ghosts to a certain extent spell out incommensurable cultural differences.’
    • ‘Languages of those in different parts of the power structure are incommensurable making conversation across lines impossible.’
    • ‘‘Is’ and ‘ought’ seem to come from different, incommensurable worlds.’
  • 2Mathematics
    (of numbers) in a ratio that cannot be expressed as a ratio of integers.

    • ‘If, when the lesser of two unequal magnitudes is continually subtracted in turn from the greater, that which is left never measures the one before it, the magnitudes will be incommensurable.’
    • ‘Similarly, we only know that a diagonal of a square is incommensurable with its side if we know that there are squares and that squares have diagonals.’
    • ‘Book five lays out the work of Eudoxus on proportion applied to commensurable and incommensurable magnitudes.’
    • ‘The incommensurable is mentioned over and over again, but the case mentioned is that of the diagonal of a square in relation to its side; there is no allusion to the extension of the theory to other cases by Theodorus and Theaetetus…’
    1. 2.1 Irrational.
      • ‘It leads to the incommensurable (irrational) relations, which cannot be represented in a rational form.’
      • ‘In contrast Archytas argued that 9/8 cubed or three major second intervals equals the square root of two as the Greek Miracle, the axiomatic algebra of the precise incommensurable irrational number.’


usually incommensurables
  • An incommensurable quantity.

    • ‘The truth, of course, is that in putting a money value on the prospective balance of happiness in years that the deceased might otherwise have lived, the jury or judge of fact is attempting to equate incommensurables.’
    • ‘There is force in the argument that to permit reference in libel cases to conventional levels of award in personal injury cases is simply to admit yet another incommensurable into the field of consideration.’
    • ‘Pappus tells us, therefore, that Theaetetus was inspired by the work of Theodorus to work on incommensurables and that he made major contributions to the theory.’
    • ‘Anaxagoras and the followers of Pythagoras, with their development of incommensurables, are also thought by some to be the targets of Zeno's arguments.’
    • ‘No, your Honour, the only errors of principle are, what does the principle of equality before the law mean when it comes to sentencing in specific cases and does it require the comparison of incommensurables, as it were?’


Mid 16th century (in the mathematical sense): from late Latin incommensurabilis, from in- ‘not’ + commensurabilis (see commensurable).