Impassable - impassible - impossible

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Be careful not to misread either ‘impassable’ or ‘impassible’ as ‘impossible’; and do not be quick to assume that either of the first two is simply a misspelling of the third – though, of course, on occasion this may be so. Only a single letter differentiates ’impassable’ from ‘impassible’, and ‘impassible’ from ‘impossible’.

  • Impassable’ and ‘impassible’ are homophones: both are pronounced, with the stress on the long ‘a’ in the second syllable, IPA: /ɪm 'pɑː sə bəl/.

The two words have quite different meanings:

    • Impassable’ means ‘not able to be travelled through or over’, and is typically used of roads, paths, terrain, countryside and the like, as in ‘The heavy snowfall during the night had made the only road out of the village impassable’ or 'The dense crowd of protesters had blocked the entrance to the building and formed an impassable barrier to those who wished to enter’. There are also the related nouns ‘impassability’ and ‘impassableness’, and the adverb ‘impassably’. ‘Impassable’ is sometimes misspelt as ‘impassible’.
    • Impassible’, which is rarely used outside Theology, means either ‘not susceptible to pain or injury’ or ‘impassive’ or ‘unmoved’, as in ‘The blows rained down, but he did not flinch in the face of the brutal attack or respond in any way: he seemed impassible’. Again, there are two related nouns ‘impassibility’ and ‘impassibleness’, and an adverb, ‘impassibly’. The root of ‘impassible’, the second syllable, –pass-, comes from the past participle of the Latin verb pati, ‘to suffer’. The adjective impassive is more frequent in current English, at least apart from Theology. It also comes from the Latin verb pati, ‘to suffer’.