The words irreparable and unrepairable are synonyms that mean unable to be fixed. Both irreparable and unrepairable are adjectives (words that modify nouns by describing an aspect of them). Irreparable was first used between the late 1300s to early 1400s. It’s a Middle English word derived from the Latin term, irreparabilis, meaning not able to be recovered. Unrepairable is a related form of the verb repair. With usage that dates back to the 1300s. Repair is also a Middle English word that comes from the Latin, reparare, meaning to prepare again.
Unrepairable is used in reference to a broken object. Physical items that have been damaged and can’t be fixed are unrepairable. If you have a very old car that the manufacturer’s stopped making parts for, it can become unrepairable once the engine dies. If replacement parts no longer exist, the car is impossible to repair.
Even virtual items can be considered unrepairable. Fans of Minecraft sometimes complain in online forums that the objects they create are unrepairable after becoming broken in-game.
Irreparable, on the other hand, is mainly used in reference to circumstances or relationships. The term is common in both law and medicine. Irreparable is often used with exaggerations or analogies.
The legal term irreparable harm means that the damage done (or the potential damage) can’t be reversed or corrected by paying the other party money.
The term irreparable damage can apply even if the damage is physical. Many medical conditions are irreparable. Very often, rotator cuff injuries are irreparable. The tear can’t be repaired through surgery or rehabilitation. Medical errors can cause irreparable nerve damage. When a person is deprived of oxygen, their brain or heart can have irreparable damage.
Irreparable and unrepairable mean the same thing: the inability to fix something that’s been damaged or harmed. The context of the sentence impacts which form of the word should be used. When referring to physical damage of a man-made object, unrepairable is the appropriate choice. In sentences referring to harm inflicted on a relationship, a circumstance, or the human body, it’s better to use irreparable.