Has someone ever asked for your objective opinion? Or said that something is “entirely subjective”? The words subjective and objective are used in all kinds of contexts, from journalism to science to grammar, and they’re often discussed as opposites. But what do they actually mean?
In most cases, it comes down to whether something is based on personal experience or on verifiable facts. But it can get confusing. An opinion or viewpoint can be said to be objective or subjective, depending on how it was formed. We’re here to clear all of that up by explaining what each word means and how each should be used.
Subjective most commonly means based on the personal perspective or preferences of a person—the subject who’s observing something. In contrast, objective most commonly means not influenced by or based on a personal viewpoint—based on the analysis of an object of observation only.
What does subjective mean?
Generally speaking, subjective is used to describe something that exists in the mind of a person or that pertains to viewpoints of an individual person.
Sometimes, subjective means about the same thing as personal. Everyone’s experience of an event is subjective, because each person’s circumstances and background are unique, leading to different interpretations.
Subjective observation is centered on a person’s own mind and perspectives, as opposed to being general, universal, or scientific. In this way, describing an observation as subjective often implies that it comes with (or is based on) personal biases.
In philosophy, subjective specifically means relating to an object as it exists in the mind, as opposed to the thing as it exists in reality (the thing in itself). All perception relies on your mind, so your perception of a thing is ultimately subjective.
What does objective mean?
In most of its common uses, objective is contrasted with subjective, often as if it’s the opposite. Objective most commonly means not influenced by an individual’s personal viewpoint—unbiased (or at least attempting to be unbiased). It’s often used to describe things like observations, decisions, or reports that are based on an unbiased analysis.
Something that’s truly objective has nothing to do with a person’s own feelings or views—it just deals with facts. When someone says “Objectively speaking,” they’re indicating that they’re going to give an unbiased assessment—not one based on their personal preferences.
Journalists are trained to be as objective as possible when reporting—to leave their opinions out of it and just record and present the facts. This is called objectivity.
What else does objective mean?
In grammar, the word objective is applied to words that function as objects—the recipients of actions. In the sentence The dog ate my homework, the word homework is in the objective case (meaning that it’s the object—the recipient—of the action). The word subjective, on the other hand, is applied to a word that’s the subject of the sentence (in the given example, the dog is the subject—the one performing the action).
Objective is also commonly used as a noun meaning a goal or a target, as in The objective of this article is to teach you about the difference between objective and subjective.
Examples of subjective vs. objective
Let’s think about some scenarios in which something might be classified as subjective or objective.
Let’s say you’re a restaurant critic. There may be certain foods that you subjectively dislike—ones that are just not to your taste. But when critiquing dishes, you must leave your subjective tastes aside and be objective about what you eat—making objective judgments about things like how it’s cooked and seasoned and how the ingredients work together. Even if you’re served a dish that you subjectively don’t like, it’s your job to objectively assess its quality.
In a scientific experiment, your hypothesis might be based—at least in part—on your subjective opinion about what the results will be. But science is about being completely objective by gathering data and making conclusions based on the data.
In everyday life, your objective opinion is the one that sets aside your subjective preferences or feelings about something and instead assesses it based on facts and reality.
How to use subjective vs. objective
Use subjective when you’re talking about an opinion or feeling that is based on an individual’s perspective or preferences.
Use objective when you’re talking about something—like an assessment, decision, or report—that’s unbiased and based solely on the observable or verifiable facts.
Examples of subjective and objective used in a sentence
- All art is subjective—everyone has their own personal interpretation.
- We want to record your subjective views on the topic, so just be honest.
- You can always count on her for an objective opinion, no matter what her personal feelings are.
- Although my objective assessment is that the book is poorly written, I can’t help but love its enemies-to-friends plotline.
- The first part of the assignment is an objective analysis of the data; the second part is an essay on your subjective reaction to it.