What is the difference between the terms 'solve' and 'dissolve'? Up until now I have used the two terms interchangeably, not having any sound scientific definitions for each. I have thought them both to mean to make a solid into a solution through the addition of a solvent (not sure if only for solids into solutions; is the mixing of two fluids also dissolving/solving because $\ce{CO2 (g)}$ can dissolve into water?).

I have not been able to find any scientific definitions on the internet that differentiate the two. it would also be helpful if you could clearly define any other terms related to the mixing of substances without a chemical reaction occurring (eg. immiscible, which I understand to be the state of two FLUIDS being unable to homogeneously mix)

Also, if both substances are liquids, which one is the solvent and which one the solute?

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    $\begingroup$ "Solve" is only used in "solving equations", it has an entirely different meaning from "dissolve". So searching for the difference between the two is kind of like searching for the difference between the Sun and 2-pentanone, you wouldn't get any answers. $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2015 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ but a solid can be said to have been solved by a solvent can it not? $\endgroup$
    – ziggy
    Jun 28, 2015 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ No, you can't say that. (Well, you could, but nobody would understand you!) $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2015 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ @ziggy I think you mean 'solvated' not 'solved'. Solvation is where solvent molecules coordinate to a solute. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Jun 28, 2015 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @orthocresol, In older papers you will see "solved" used like ziggy is saying. If you search on Google Scholar for solved in methanol, about 25% of the hits are for ziggy's usage. The rest are mis-parsings of "dissolved", e.g. "dis- solved in methanol", etc. $\endgroup$
    – Curt F.
    Jun 28, 2015 at 16:58

2 Answers 2


According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, dissolve originates from the Middle English word solve, meaning to loosen or dissolve. There is no official modern English definition for solve other than 1) to find a solution, explanation, or answer or 2) to pay (as a debt) in full.

The IUPAC Gold Book actually gives no definition for either solve or dissolve, though it defines solvation:

Any stabilizing interaction of a solute (or solute moiety) and the solvent or a similar interaction of solvent with groups of an insoluble material (i.e. the ionic groups of an ion-exchange resin). Such interactions generally involve electrostatic forces and van der Waals forces, as well as chemically more specific effects such as hydrogen bond formation.

When two miscible liquids are combined, they are said to form a solution.


Actually there is no difference between "To solve" and "To dissolve" in informal English language. But we can distinguish them in formal case based on scientific papers in chemistry. As "To solve" includes general types of finding a response; and "To dissolve" includes detailed meaning of solid solution in a ionic fluid like water.


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