The adjectives “pliant” and “pliable” have very similar meanings, since they both describe something or someone that can bend easily without breaking. However, there are some subtle differences in their usage.
“Pliant” is used to describe an object specifically designed to be able to fold. For example:
- Une chaise pliante dispose de charnières qui permettent de la replier. “A folding chair has hinges that allow it to fold up.”
- Un vélo pliant possède un cadre et des roues qui se replient, souvent pour faciliter le transport. “A folding bike has a frame and wheels that can fold up, often for easier transportation.”
“Pliant” therefore implies a folding system that was thought of during the design process.
“Pliable“ rather applies to a flexible material or object that can bend, even if it wasn’t originally meant to fold. For instance:
- Une branche d’arbre est pliable, elle peut se courber sous le poids des fruits. “A tree branch is pliable, it can bend under the weight of fruit.”
- Un tapis de yoga est pliable, il peut être enroulé sans effort. “A yoga mat is pliable, it can be rolled up effortlessly.”
To describe someone’s character, “pliant” is preferred for a conciliatory, docile attitude, and “pliable” for an ability to change one’s mind and adapt.
- Jean est très pliant et conciliant. Il accepte toujours les suggestions des autres sans objection. Il a une attitude très docile et conciliante. “John is very pliant and agreeable. He always goes along with other people’s suggestions without objection. He has a very docile and conciliatory attitude.”
- Les enfants sont souvent très pliables et ouverts aux différentes influences. Un bon professeur peut modeler un jeune esprit pliable. “Children are often very pliable and open to different influences. A good teacher can mold a pliable young mind.”