English has a lot of words that have similar, but slightly different meanings.
Learning all these options, and how to use them in a sentence, can be a great way to build your vocabulary and add nuance to your expressions.
Today, we’ll learn about the word “benign.”
How do you use “benign” in a sentence?
The word “benign” is an adjective meaning that something is kind and gentle. In a medical setting, “benign” can also mean that a tumor or medical condition isn’t harmful, and the word can also be used to talk about the climate or environment in much the same way. To use “benign” in a sentence, simply put it in front of a noun or say that something “is benign.”
The meaning of “benign”
The word “benign” can be used any time you want to say something or someone is kind, gentle or otherwise has good intentions.
“Benign” is an adjective, which means it can be used to modify a person, place or thing. In practice, outside of the sciences the word is mostly applied to people or something that a person controls.
For example, a “benign smile” might show that the person smiling doesn’t mean anything bad by it, but is trying to show you they have your best interests at heart.
“Benign” is a little bit formal, so you probably wouldn’t want to use it in a casual setting. However, it’s a great way to suggest that somebody is acting with good will in a more formal, almost literary way.
“Benign” in the sciences
Although in ordinary usage, “benign” means that something or someone is kind or gentle, the word has taken on a specific meaning in some academic settings.
When you hear a doctor use the word “benign,” they mean that something like a tumor or condition is not harmful or unlikely to spread. A “benign tumor,” for example is not one that is friendly or gentle, but one that doesn’t spread like cancer does.
In biology, the word “benign” can be used to describe a local climate’s effect on the species that live there. A “benign environment,” in other words, means one where living creatures can easily flourish.
Where does the word “benign” come from?
The word “benign” comes almost directly from Classical Latin, where “benignus” meant “kind” or “friendly.”
Interestingly, the Latin word itself comes from two Latin root words, “bene” meaning “good” and “gignere,” meaning “to give birth to.” Literally, then, the word “benign” originated in a phrase meaning “well born.”
From Latin, “benignus” moved into Old French “benigne,” then Middle English, where it was spelled the same way. By the 1800s, the word “benign” was well established in modern versions of the language in its current spelling.
How to use “benign” in a sentence
There are two ways to use “benign” in a sentence, as with all adjectives.
In the first construction, simply place “benign” directly before the noun it modifies. Alternatively, you can use “benign” after the noun by connecting the two with “is” or another version of the word “to be” that makes grammatical sense.
Here, “benign” is placed immediately in front of the word “ruler” to show that the king is a kind and generous king.
“The benign smile on the face of the tiger was misleading; he was only happy because he’d just eaten.”
“Benign” is placed in front of the tiger’s smile here, but if the tiger’s smile is benign the real implication is that the tiger himself is. However, as the rest of the sentence suggests, that may be a bad assumption.
Here, “benign” follows “was,” the past tense of “to be.” This is the medical sense of the word.
Some synonyms for “benign”
The word “benign” is a great word, but sometimes it doesn’t quite have the nuance you need. Here are some alternatives with a slightly different meaning.
If you want to talk about a person who is just genuinely kind to everyone they meet, “kind-hearted” might be a better choice than “benign.” It’s also a less formal option.
The word “cordial” suggests unfailing politeness and doesn’t necessarily mean someone is kind. It should only be used to describe people, and suggests a person’s attitude in a slightly formal setting.
The Opposite of Benign
The antonym for “benign” is “malign.”
This word, also derived from Latin, means the exact opposite of benign in all ways. It can even be used in a medical sense to suggest that a tumor or disease is particularly bad.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.