[ suhb-op-tuh-muhl ]
/ sʌbˈɒp tə məl /
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being below an optimal level or standard.
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Also sub·op·ti·mum [suhb-op-tuh-muhm]. /sʌbˈɒp tə məm/.

Origin of suboptimal

First recorded in 1930–35; sub- + optimal
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does suboptimal mean?

Suboptimal means below the optimal (best possible) level or standard.

The words optimal and optimum both describe an ideal or perfect level, degree, result, or similar thing. Suboptimal means something has fallen short of that level. It is often used in phrases like suboptimal performance and suboptimal conditions.

Example: The patient’s heart is performing at a suboptimal level.

Where does suboptimal come from?

The first record of suboptimal comes from the early 1900s (when it was often hyphenated as sub-optimal). It is made up of the prefix sub-, meaning “under” or “below,” and optimal, which comes from the Latin word optimus, meaning “best.”

Suboptimal is commonly used to indicate that a system or a part of it isn’t performing as it should, such as in software or the human body. Many different fields use suboptimal to describe something that doesn’t meet a certain standard. In medicine, the word is used to describe an organ that is not functioning properly or to comment on treatment, as in the phrase suboptimal care. In machinery and computing, suboptimal is often used to refer to low efficiency or speed. In sports, suboptimal performance or suboptimal play are used to refer to teams or individual players who aren’t performing at their usual or expected level.

In all of these senses, suboptimal is a somewhat technical term meant to indicate that an ideal standard is not being reached.

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What are some synonyms for suboptimal?

What are some words that share a root or word element with suboptimal?


What are some words that often get used in discussing suboptimal?

How is suboptimal used in real life?

Suboptimal is used as a way of commenting on the performance of someone or something, especially when discussing efficiency or skill. Sports commentators use it as a more serious-sounding way of saying that a performance was poor.



Try using suboptimal!

Which of the following terms is an antonym (opposite) of suboptimal?

A. imperfect
B. substandard
C. satisfactory
D. bad

How to use suboptimal in a sentence