Worthwhile or Worthy? (and Worth) – Explanation & Exercises

Here is the simplest advice I can give on the difference between the adjectives worthy and worthwhile:

1. If you are talking about a person or thing (a noun) that deserves respect/attention/recognition/etc, use worthy.

  • John is worthy of a promotion.
  • That idea is worthy of consideration.

2. If you are talking about the value of doing an activity, use worthwhile.

  • Brushing your teeth is worthwhile.
  • If you're going to travel abroad, getting health insurance is worthwhile.

That is the most important distinction. See below for more details.

 

Word Family for 'Worth'

VerbNounAdjectiveAdverb
-worthworthworthily
-worthy
-worthwhile
-worthlessnessworthlessworthlessly

As you can see, worth, worthy, and worthy are all adjectives, but worth is also a noun. Let's focus on adjectives and their most common uses.

'Worthy' Means Something/Someone is Deserving of Recognition/Respect/Attention

The adjective worthy describes something that deserves recognition, respect, or attention. For example:

  • His songs are worthy of recognition. (= The songs are good enough/deserve to be recognized.)
  • The offer was not worthy of consideration. (= It did not deserve to be considered.)
  • He is a man worthy of respect. (= He deserves to be respected.)

As you can see, worthy is often combined with the preposition of.

Worthy can also be used before a noun:

  • The boxer wanted to find a worthy opponent. (He was looking for an opponent that deserved his attention.)
  • I think this charity is a worthy cause. (The charity deserves respect/recognition as a cause.)

In summary, if you are talking about a noun (a thing or person) that deserves respect or attention, use worthy.

 

'Worthwhile' Means an Activity Has Enough Value to Spend Time On

The adjective worthwhile describes an activity (never a person) that has enough value to spend effort or time on.

Remember that the word while is always used with an activity that takes time. For example, I read while I take the train. Here, taking the train is an action that takes time.  Similarly to how we use while, you can only use worthwhile with activities that take time.

  • Reading on the train is worthwhile.
  • It is worthwhile to read on the train.

(Note: Worthwhile is sometimes written as two words, 'worth while', and sometimes 'worth my/your/his/her/their while'.)

Both of these sentences mean that reading is an activity that has enough value to justify doing it. Here are some more examples with the actions in purple:

  • Getting your teeth cleaned by a dentist is worthwhile.
  • Meeting Jane was worthwhile
  • Mark is not sure if getting a Master's degree would be worthwhile.

Note: Expressions 'Worth the Time' & 'Worth Your While'

Instead of using worthwhile, you can also use the expressions worth your time / worth your while / worth it:

  • Getting your teeth cleaned by a dentist is worth your time / worth the while / worth it.
  • Meeting Jane was worth my time / worth it.
  • Mark is not sure if getting a Master's degree would be worth his time / worth his while / worth it.

Worthwhile + Noun

Even without the verb representing the activity, we can still use worthwhile when the activity we are referring to is understood.

  • I hope reading this lesson is worthwhile. > I hope this is a worthwhile lesson. ('This' refers to reading the lesson)
  • Visiting the dentist was worthwhile. = It was a worthwhile visit. ('It' refers to visiting the dentist)

That's the end of the lesson on worthy vs worthwhile. If you'd like to read a little about worth, see below.

 

'Worth' Describes the Value of an Object

The adjective worth tells you the value (usually financial) of an object.

  • That book is worth $10.
  • I bought a table worth $300.

Worth can also refer to the value of investing time or effort. As mentioned above, when used this way, it is the same as worthwhile.

  • It is not worth the time. (= It is not worthwhile.)
  • It's not worth the effort. (= Doing it is not worthwhile.)

Worth + Gerund (Verb in ~ing Form) = Worthwhile

If you follow the adjective worth with a verb in the ~ing form, it has the same meaning as worthwhile. Compare:

  • The movie is worth seeing. = Seeing the movie is worthwhile.
  • It's worth getting travel insurance. = Getting travel insurance is worthwhile.

 

Summary

  1. If you are talking about a person or thing (a noun) that is deserving of something, use worthy.

He is worthy of respect/recognition/consideration.

  1.  If you are talking about the value of doing an activity, there are a few options:
    1. Worthwhile: Exercising regularly is worthwhile.
    2. An expression (such as 'worth your time/while/trouble/effort'): Exercising regularly is worth your time.
    3. Worth + gerund: It is worth exercising regularly
  1. If you are talking about the value (usually financial) of a thing (a noun), use worth.

This house is worth four million dollars.

a hat for a university graduation ceremony

Is attending university worthwhile? What is the worth (value) of a university degree?

Do you think you understand? Try these exercises.

Exercises: Worthy, Worthwhile, or Worth

  1. I think her book is  of an award.
  2. Reading to your child is .
  3. Roger Penrose won the Nobel Prize for his work in physics. He is of respect.
  4. His car is  $80,000.
  5. This story is  of your attention. It's important.
  6. The company decided that opening another store would be .
  7. Ana had an idea, but she decided that it wasn't  mentioning.
Answers & Explanations
  1. worthy - The word 'book' is a noun, not an activity. We are saying the book is deserving of recognition.
  2. worthwhile - This is an activity. We are saying that this activity has value.
  3. worthy - We are talking about a noun here (a man), and 'worthy' collocates with the preposition 'of'
  4. worth - We are talking about the financial value of an object here.
  5. worthy - We are talking about a noun here (a story), and 'worthy' collocates with the preposition 'of'
  6. worthwhile - Opening another store is an activity.
  7. worth - Remember that worth + v~ing (gerund) means has the same meaning as worthwhile

I hope reading this lesson has been worthwhile. If you find a mistake or have a question, please leave a comment below.

-- Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)

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