The four words we’re focusing on this TOEFL Tuesday are all adjectives, and they all describe big changes in the world. So some of the meanings are pretty similar, but there are subtle differences that are important to understand if you want to use these words correctly. And there’s a good chance you will want at least one of these words on your TOEFL, because independent speaking and writing tasks are often about global and technological changes.
(to be) innovative
If you know your Latin roots, you might see the root “nov” in this word, which tells you it’s about something “new.” Something innovative is new and different, never seen before. Innovative ideas and creations are usually clever and interesting, but they’re not all world-changing.
Example: Picasso’s style was innovative and unique; few artists had ever painted quite like he did.
(to be) revolutionary
Whereas an innovative idea might change the world, a revolutionary idea does change the world. That is a key meaning of this word; after a revolutionary change, the world can never return to the previous situation. Everything changes, and it’s permanent.
A revolution is, of course, often a political event. If the people start a war against their own government and then create a new government, that’s a revolution. But even non-political events can be revolutionary. As long as the change is big enough, and affects everything in the future, the word works.
Example: Touchscreens on smartphones were a revolutionary change because they impact every little part of our lives.
(to be) sweeping
This word isn’t quite as strong as “revolutionary,” but it is another word for something very large and important. If a change is sweeping, that means it affects many, many people. This word describes not how serious the change is, but how big the area it affects is. If there are many, many, small changes, they can be so numerous that they are “sweeping.”
Example: After being elected, the new president made sweeping tax changes.
(to be) profound
Whereas “sweeping” is mostly about the number or size of the area, profound is about how deep the change is. A caterpillar turning into a butterfly doesn’t go through “sweeping” changes because there is only one caterpillar. But it does go through “profound” changes, because a caterpillar is so completely different from a butterfly.
Example: The impact of human activity on our environment has been profound.