The Difference between “Improve” and “Increase”

I always get the most interesting and thought-provoking questions for our Q&A Tuesdays! I really love getting these questions on learning English further. Helping you improve your understanding of the English language and encouraging you to increase your confidence in speaking, writing and using English is absolutely rewarding for me!

Our Q&A Tuesdays help me help you guys with what you find complicated in the language. And in the process, we all just learn together in the most fun and engaging way! Am I right? 

So this week, I chose a really interesting question on English that I want to shed light on. The question I got is from Felipe of the beautiful country of Brazil. Felipe asked me, “Hi Gabby, how can I increase my English fluency?”

And I absolutely understand the meaning behind that question! But let’s take a step back first and be technical about it. Felipe’s use of the verb “increase” is not appropriate for English fluency. Because technically, you can’t increase your English fluency.

You can, instead, improve your English fluency. 

So, perhaps you are now asking “what’s the difference?” And we’ll get into that. I’ll also provide you with plenty of examples so that you can have a clear grasp of when and how to use these commonly interchanged words. 

But first, let me point out that both increase and improve similarly mean ‘to make better’. Which is probably why Felipe understandably composed his question the way he did. Am I right, Felipe? But don’t worry, we will all learn together here! 

Let’s get to the meaty question then of what their difference is. 

Increase is used to talk about quantity, size or numbers. 

You can use increase when you want to talk about adding to an amount, value, or size, or making a sum or total larger. 

Examples: 

“I want to increase the number of shoes I have in my closet.” 

“My time at the gym needs to be increased.” 

“I am working on increasing the value of my properties.” 

“Our professor increased the number of book reports we have to submit weekly.” 

“Our sales target has increased ten times!” 

Improve is used to talk about quality.

The word improve, on the other hand, is used to talk about quality. You use this when you mean to say that you want to add to a quality or feature or feeling.

Examples:

“I want to improve the way I handle stressful situations.”

“My skin has improved so much after getting more hours of sleep.”

“It’s such a gloomy day! I really hope the weather improves.”

“Here’s wishing my fever goes away and my health improves by tomorrow!”

“The new model of their mobile phone has improved features!”

Now, there are situations when you can use both words improve and increase with the same noun.

Example:

“I really want to increase my test scores.”

“I really want to improve my test scores.”

Both are acceptable, yes. But do both mean the same? Again, no. Increasing your test scores means getting a higher numerical rating. Let’s say from 90% to 100%. Improving your test scores, on the other hand, means getting a better score quality. Perhaps you want to go from a Satisfactory rating to an Excellent one. Do you see what I mean?

Here’s another example!

“I want to increase my English vocabulary.” — Which means you want to add to the number of English words you know.

“I want to improve my English vocabulary.” — Which means you want to enhance the quality of English words that you know. Let’s say from basic English words to more creative or poetic words.

So you see, improve and increase may have a similar meaning. But their difference is in their use. Just keep in mind which word should be used for what meaning.

By the way, if do want to both improve your English vocabulary AND increase the number of words in it, check out this post for a really fun and quick tip! I’m sure you’ll love it!

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