Modifiers

Adjectives: Doubtful about the use of dubious

Doubtful means to be full of doubt; dubious means to be of questionable worth or character.

Rule: Use doubtful when referring to a person’s thoughts or beliefs; use dubious when referring to an object or practice about which one has doubts.

Example 1: On 29 January 2007, The Globe and Mail reported yet another plan for dealing with the infamous Sydney Tar Ponds, and one person’s reaction to it: ”Robert Williams, whose home overlooks the tar ponds, was dubious about the announcement.”

What’s wrong: There’s nothing in the report to suggest that Williams is of questionable character; he’s not dubious—rather, he’s doubtful: full of doubt about the wisdom of the latest plan.

Correct usage: ”Robert Williams, whose home overlooks the tar ponds, was doubtful about the announcement.”

Example 2: On 26 February 2007, The Globe and Mail reported that Canada’s chartered banks are uncertain of the best response to NDP leader Jack Layton’s campaign to abolish ABM fees, now that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has rejected the Canadian Bankers’ Association attempt to spin the issue out of existence:

Some bankers appear to believe that they will have to extend an olive branch to Mr. Flaherty, and they are preparing options for reducing the cost of electronic cash withdraws. Others, however, are dubious of this course, and insist it would be a mistake to craft policy simply in response to politicking.

What’s wrong: The point to be made is about bankers’ opinion of the appeasement of Mr. Flaherty: some bankers have doubts about the proposed course of action; that is to say, they are doubtful of its wisdom. The proposed course of action, in the view of these doubtful bankers, is a dubious course of action: one of questionable worth or character.

Correct usage: ”Some bankers appear to believe that they will have to extend an olive branch to Mr. Flaherty… others, however, are doubtful of this course, and insist it would be a mistake to craft policy simply in response to politicking.”

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