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"pros and cons" vs "advantages and disadvantages"

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Is "pros and cons" formal enough? Or is "advantages and disadvantages" better in an essay for uni?

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3 answers


donald remero [ Moderator ]

I say that "pros and cons" is formal enough -- if that is what you mean.

Pros and cons refer to reasons "for" and "against" a proposition. Advantages and disadvantages refer to the perceived consequences of either accepting a proposition as true or taking a specific course of action.

Consequently, your choice of using "pros and cons" or "advantages and disadvantages" is also a choice about your entire approach to whatever it is you are discussing. Reasons for and against can be phrased both positively and negatively. This can muddle your analysis if you are not careful about it. Thinking in terms of "reasons" probably doesn't naturally focus your thinking as sharply as thinking more specifically in terms of consequences does.

Generally speaking, outside rhetoric, speech and debate, and political science, I think it is safe to say that academics care more about about "advantages and disadvantages" than "pros and cons." For me, it is not that "pros and cons" is not formal enough in terms of diction, my real concern would be that "pros and cons" does not sufficiently focus the actual content of your analysis.

For example, "Doing it because it is right" may very well be a "pro," but without going a step further and getting to the real consequential advantages of being right, or alternatively without getting to the real consequential disadvantages of doing something wrong you are not really going to be producing meaningful "academic" essay.

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I realize that this was asked quite some time ago, but thought I would throw in my two cents.

I would avoid using "pros and cons." I don't think that it is formal enough, because "con" is an abbreviation (albeit widely accepted) for "contra." Interestingly, "pro" is a stand alone word, not an abbreviation.

As already pointed out, "disadvantages and advantages" is not necessarily a perfect replacement; however, I believe that a suitable replacement could be made out of "advantages and disadvantages" or "reasons for and against" in most contexts.

Others may disagree, but I have generally been taught that informalities such as abbreviations should be avoided in formal writing (which a university essay would qualify as, I imagine).

NN comments
donald remero

“Pros and cons” is a stock phrase and is perfectly acceptable, if that is what you mean. “Con” has been in use in English since the 15th century. There is a big difference between standardized shortening of words and what you would normally call an “abbreviation.” While it is true that “pro et contra” was the original Latin, the OED list examples of standardize usage in English beginning in 1572. “Pro-and-con” as a verb actually appears in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus.

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oli [ Admin ]

I am not sure if "pros and cons" is regarded as less formal, but it seems more frequently used than "advantages and disadvantages".

A Google search on "pros and cons" and "advantages and disadvantages" respectively return 9,580,000 and 5,920,000 results.

NN comments

I’m wary of Google results. For example, if you browse through the pages, you’ll see the results really stop at 804 and 500-something respectively.

And you haven’t tried the oh-so-common “pro’s and con’s”, that’s sure to result in an awfully large number.

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