Determinate vs. Indeterminate — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Maham Liaqat — Updated on May 9, 2024
Determinate refers to having fixed limits or a definite end, while indeterminate implies lacking clear limits or an undefined endpoint.

Key Differences

Determinate is used to describe situations, conditions, or objects that have clearly defined limits or conclusions. On the other hand, indeterminate describes situations or conditions where limits are not defined or conclusions are uncertain.
In mathematics, a determinate problem has a specific solution or a finite number of solutions. Conversely, an indeterminate problem might have infinite solutions or none that can be specifically defined without additional information.
In the context of plants, determinate varieties, like some tomato plants, grow to a certain height and stop, focusing then on fruit production. Meanwhile, indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce fruit over a longer period without a fixed growth limit.
A legal judgment that is determinate will have a clear outcome based on established laws and facts. In contrast, an indeterminate judgment may depend on interpretations or conditions that are not clearly specified, leading to potential changes in the future.
In literature, a determinate ending resolves the main plot lines and questions, providing closure. Indeterminate endings leave more questions unanswered, allowing for multiple interpretations or continuations.

Comparison Chart

Definition

Having clear, defined limits or a definite end.
Lacking clear boundaries or not clearly defined.

Examples in Nature

Growth of determinate plants stops at a certain point.
Indeterminate plants grow continuously.

Mathematics

Problems with finite, specific solutions.
Problems that may have infinite solutions or require more data.

Literature

Endings that tie up all loose ends.
Endings that leave room for interpretation or continuation.

Legal Context

Judgments with a clear, unambiguous outcome.
Judgments that may evolve based on interpretation or new information.

Compare with Definitions

Determinate

Having a fixed limit or definite size.
Determinate sentences in prison have a specific duration.

Indeterminate

In mathematics, having an infinite number of solutions or requiring more information to solve.
The equation proved indeterminate without additional constraints.

Determinate

Conclusively decided or settled.
The determinate outcome of the trial left no room for doubt.

Indeterminate

Not exactly known, established, or defined.
The duration of the project is indeterminate due to fluctuating factors.

Determinate

Having a definite conclusion or resolution.
The story had a determinate ending, resolving all conflicts.

Indeterminate

Biology: Having the capacity to grow indefinitely.
Indeterminate tomatoes continue producing fruit throughout the growing season.

Determinate

Biology: Describing growth that stops after reaching a certain stage.
Determinate plants are ideal for containers because they do not require much space.

Indeterminate

Having no clear limits or boundaries.
Indeterminate sentences can vary widely depending on behavior and reviews.

Determinate

Limited to a particular duration or amount.
The project was given a determinate timeframe of six months.

Indeterminate

Lacking a clear or predictable outcome.
The novel ended on an indeterminate note, leaving readers speculating about the future.

Determinate

Precisely limited or defined; definite
A determinate number.
A determinate distance.

Indeterminate

Not exactly known, established, or defined
The date of manufacture is indeterminate
The carpet is an indeterminate dull shade

Determinate

Conclusively settled; final.

Indeterminate

(of a shoot) not having all the axes terminating in a flower bud and so potentially of indefinite length.

Determinate

Firm in purpose; resolute.

Indeterminate

Not precisely determined, determinable, or established
A person of indeterminate age.

Determinate

Terminating in a flower and blooming in a sequence beginning with the uppermost or central flower
A determinate inflorescence.

Indeterminate

Not precisely fixed, as to extent, size, nature, or number
An indeterminate number of plant species in the jungle.

Determinate

Not continuing indefinitely at the tip of an axis
Determinate growth.

Indeterminate

Lacking clarity or precision, as in meaning; vague
An indeterminate turn of phrase.

Determinate

Distinct, clearly defined.

Indeterminate

Not fixed or known in advance
An indeterminate future.

Determinate

Fixed, set, unvarying.

Indeterminate

Not leading up to a definite result or ending
An indeterminate campaign.

Determinate

(biology) Of growth: ending once a genetically predetermined structure has formed.

Indeterminate

(Botany) Not terminating in a flower and continuing to grow at the apex
An indeterminate inflorescence.

Determinate

Conclusive; decisive; positive.

Indeterminate

(Mathematics) Having more than one variable and an infinite number of solutions, such as the equation 5x2 + 3y = 10.

Determinate

(obsolete) Determined or resolved upon.

Indeterminate

Not accurately determined or determinable.

Determinate

Of determined purpose; resolute.

Indeterminate

Imprecise or vague.

Determinate

(philosophy) A single state of a particular determinable attribute.

Indeterminate

Not definitively or precisely determined, because of the presence of infinity or zero symbols used in any of several improper combinations.

Determinate

(obsolete) To bring to an end; to determine.

Indeterminate

With no genetically defined end, and thus theoretically limitless.

Determinate

Having defined limits; not uncertain or arbitrary; fixed; established; definite.
Quantity of words and a determinate number of feet.

Indeterminate

Not topped with some form of terminal bud.

Determinate

Conclusive; decisive; positive.
The determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.

Indeterminate

(architecture) Designed to allow the incorporation of future changes whose nature is not yet known.

Determinate

Determined or resolved upon.
My determinate voyage.

Indeterminate

A symbol that resembles a variable or parameter but is used purely formally and neither signifies nor is ever assigned a particular value;
(loose sense) a variable.

Determinate

Of determined purpose; resolute.
More determinate to do than skillful how to do.

Indeterminate

Not determinate; not certain or fixed; indefinite; not precise; as, an indeterminate number of years.

Determinate

To bring to an end; to determine. See Determine.
The sly, slow hours shall not determinateThe dateless limit of thy dear exile.

Indeterminate

Not precisely determined or established; not fixed or known in advance;
Of indeterminate age
A zillion is a large indeterminate number
An indeterminate point of law
The influence of environment is indeterminate
An indeterminate future

Determinate

Precisely determined or limited or defined; especially fixed by rule or by a specific and constant cause;
A determinate distance
A determinate number
Determinate variations in animals

Indeterminate

Having a capacity for continuing to grow at the apex;
An indeterminate stem

Determinate

Not continuing to grow indefinitely at the apex;
Determinate growth

Indeterminate

Of uncertain or ambiguous nature;
The equivocal (or indeterminate) objects painted by surrealists

Determinate

Supplying or being a final or conclusive settlement;
A definitive verdict
A determinate answer to the problem

Indeterminate

Not capable of being determined;
The indeterminate number of plant species in the jungle

Indeterminate

Not leading to a definite ending or result;
An indeterminate campaign

Common Curiosities

What is the difference between determinate and indeterminate plants?

Determinate plants grow to a fixed size then stop, whereas indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce indefinitely.

How do determinate and indeterminate apply in mathematics?

Determinate problems have specific solutions, while indeterminate problems may need additional data or have infinite solutions.

What does determinate mean?

Determinate refers to having specific limits or a definite end.

What does indeterminate mean?

Indeterminate implies lacking definite limits or not being clearly defined.

Why is it important to know if a plant is determinate or indeterminate?

It helps in planning the garden space and understanding the growth and fruiting timeline.

How can an ending in literature be indeterminate?

Indeterminate endings are open-ended, allowing multiple interpretations or potential for further story development.

Can a legal judgment be both determinate and indeterminate?

A judgment initially might be determinate but can become indeterminate if new factors or interpretations arise.

What are examples of determinate decisions?

Decisions with a clear and final outcome, such as a fixed-term contract.

How do determinate and indeterminate sentences differ?

Determinate sentences have a fixed duration, while indeterminate sentences vary based on reviews and behavior.

What makes a mathematical equation indeterminate?

An equation is indeterminate if it has multiple or infinite potential solutions, often requiring additional constraints to solve.

Is an indeterminate outcome always undesirable?

Not necessarily; it can provide flexibility and adaptability in certain contexts.

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