What´s behind the word INTERACTION?

Just a few ideas

Where to start?

There are many terms in my study I use constantly and need to explain to my audience, but above all to myself to be able to express myself clearly. In this study I often use words like home economics, learning, socio-cultural and collaboration to name a few. For this exercise, analysing terms, I have chosen the word interaction that is used often and in many contexts.

The word cloud next to the text is based on this page.

About connotative and denotative interpretations

INTERACTION as a compound word takes together two parts—inter- and action. Inter- as a prefix has many senses. It can be taken as (1) between, in between, in the midst (e.g. intervene); (2) at intervals (intermit); or (3) with preventive or destructive effects (intercept).

Also act has many meanings. This word can be used as noun or verb. Act as verb denotes to (1) taking action according to or in the light of something; (2) behaving in the way specified; (3) fulfilling the function or serving the purpose; (4) taking effect or having a particular effect; (5) performing (like in theatre). As a noun, it has also different meanings like a thing done (deed); a pretence; etc.

The word interact is used on two levels, to express the act between two or more people or between things. The meaning of the verb interact between people may mean talking to each other, working together. Social context of the word is highlighted in may dictionaries where to interact is explained as to communicate with or react to (each other); to act on each other; or to communicate with somebody, especially while you work, play or spend time with them. At the same time Collins English Dictionary points to the way communication is done. By them to interact is to act on or in close relation with each other. Interact between things is taken more as a process where things affect each other or act upon each other. On both levels the word may be turned into noun interaction, which is often used as mutual or reciprocal action or influence. The word is mostly used together with the preposition or adverb (with/among/between) that defines the term. Adding adjective (complex, informal, human, face-to-face, group, social, classroom etc) helps to understand the context where the word is used.

particular meanings in different disciplines

The usage of the term

Interaction is often used in educational conversations, especially when talking about constructivist, socio-constructivist or socio-cultural approaches. Nowadays learning is seen to happen in interaction with other people (student-student interaction, teacher-student interaction, classroom interaction). In addition to social interaction also mental and physical interaction is expected. The new National Curriculum for Comprehensive School in Estonia emphasizes that learning needs to be social process, taking place in physical, mental and social interaction. The meaning of the term interaction under different learning approached can be different. When in constructivism interaction participants share information and experiences but the meaning is constructed individually in ones head, in socio-cultural learning the learning is seen as collaborative activity and understandings are constructed together. The main difference seems to be on the understanding whether the new information is first intermental (social level) and then intramental (individual level) or vice versa.

Interaction in home economics in Estonia is so far seen mainly as doing practical cooking activities in small groups (3-5 students). In this situation interaction means working together, exchanging practical information (more about what and where; not why and how). Students are communicating in close relation but the topic of their talk is often not purposeful or leading into deeper understanding.

etymological structure

Online Etymology Dictionary gives the year 1812 as the birth of the term interaction. But parts of the term have been in use for much longer. The earliest adaptation of the word inter- in English came through French form with entre- and are remodelled on 16th century on the Latin word inter-. That is also the time when the use of this prefix was widely extended in combination with other words. Inter- began to be used as adjective or adverb. Another possibility to use word inter- is that in which it governs propositionally (with the senses „between“, „among“, „forming a link between“). Today the prefix is also freely used to form attributive phrases like inter-country.

The word act/action comes from a French word acte, of Latin word actum. Used as a thing done, doing, deed. However the meaning has widened during the time and is also used in the form of put in motion, bring into action or in the context of given to action, full of action, partly through.


The prefix inter- can be easily confused with the other two prefixes intra- and intro-. Inter- means “between”, intra- “within” and intro- means “inward”.


Inter—between, among, with, into or upon each other, together, one with the other, between or among a group, together, mutually, reciprocally.

Action (as a verb) – do, perform, execute, achieve (complete), enact, commit, perpetrate, inflict, exercise, prosecute, carry on, work, practice, play, employ oneself, play one's task, officiate etc.

Synonyms for interaction:

  • Intercourse – communication or dealings between individuals or groups. The term is after 18th century often related with the idea of sexual intercourse.
  • Reciprocal (action) – given, felt or done in return; bearing on or binding each of the parties equally (obligation); related to one another so that their production in unity.
  • Communication - the activity or process of expressing ideas and feelings or of giving people information
  • Cooperation - the fact of doing something together or of working together towards a shared aim
  • Intercommunication - the process of communicating between people or groups
  • Synergy - the extra energy, power, success, etc. that is achieved by two or more people or companies working together, instead of on their own
  • Commerce - trade

Related words








the activity of exchanging (information)





Antonyms of the words inter- and action according to the Thesaurus are:

Inter- (between)—around, away, away from, outside, separate, beyond, far from

Inter- (with)—excluding, rejecting

Inter- (together)—one at a time, singly, incompatible, inharmonious

Inter- (mutually)—singly, apart, individually, separately, dissimilarly, distinctly

Inter- (reciprocally)—singly

Action—inaction, cessation, stoppage; in some context also idleness, repose, suspension.

In one way the antonym for interaction could be independent action. However, this word is not suitable in all cases as one can interact also with things not only other people. Another possibility is to use nonintercourse as the opposite of interaction.

Relation with Estonian

When translating interaction into Estonian, it has several but similar meanings:

· vastastikune mõju(s)tamine – reciprocal affect or reciprocal influence

· mõju(s)tus – affect, influence

· koostoimimine – co-operation

As seen above, interaction in the Estonian language context is about affecting each other but does not point particularly on the working together or communication as such. It seems to me that the deeper or more concrete meaning of the term is missing. I have also heard people using the loanword interaktsioon but believe that in a research context it would be incorrect to use that. There is a challenge (maybe for me) to come up with new word in Estonian that would express a more detailed understanding of the word.


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  • Allen, R. (Ed.). (2001). The New Penguin English Dictionary. London: Penguine Books.
  • Pearsall, J. (Ed.). (2001). The New Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Procter, P. (Ed.). (2001). The Cambridge International Dictionary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kirkpatrick, B. (Ed.). (1995). Cassell Concise English Dictionary. London: Cassell.
  • (1979). Canadian Intermediate Dictionary. Toronto: Gaga Publishing.
  • (1995). Collins English Dictionary. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Wikipedia. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interaction (Viewed 19.04.13)
  • Thesaurus.com. Online: http://thesaurus.com (Viewed 19.04.13)
  • Online Etymology Dictionary. Online: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php (Viewed 18.04.13)
  • Silvet, J. (2002). English-Estonian Dictionary. 4th edition. Tallinn: Tea
  • Oxford Advanced Learner´s Dictionary. Online: http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/ (Viewed 18.04.13)
  • National Curriculum for Comprehensive School. (in Estonian). Online: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/13273133 (Viewed 20.04.13)

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