Articles / Commonly Confused

Nauseated and Nauseous


Conversation overheard between a snarky editor and her victi—er, author:

“Ugh. All these changes! I swear you make me nauseous!”

“I make you able to cause nausea? Sweet! I am all-powerful!”

“No, jerk, you make me sick.”

“Grammatically speaking, then, I make you nauseated.”

“Fine. Whatever. You make me nauseated.”

“Cool! Now I’m nauseous!”

As far as grammar is concerned, the word nauseous is an adjective that describes something that causes one to have nausea—in the same way that poisonous describes something that causes one to be poisoned. Nauseated is an adverb describing the feeling of sickness or being affected with nausea.

Traditionally these terms had distinct usage, and the line between them was very clear. But with time and misuse of nauseous as an adverb to describe the feeling of sickness or revulsion, the line has blurred to the point that even Merriam-Webster, the go-to for definitions and usage at Write Divas, has written this regarding usage:

“Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only to mean “causing nausea”—that is, as a synonym for nauseating—are mistaken. The word can be, and in fact usually is, used to mean “affected with nausea”—that is, as a synonym for nauseated. Current evidence shows these facts: nauseous is most frequently used to mean physically affected with nausea, often after a linking verb such as feel or become; figurative use is quite a bit less frequent.”¹

I’m going to go out on a limb and disagree. Simply based on the reasoning that it’s used incorrectly more times than it’s used correctly doesn’t make it correct. However, I’m not in charge of the words today. So if you’re a traditionalist when it comes to usage, you’ll probably want to keep using nauseated when you’re feeling ill and nauseous when you’re causing illness. If not, feel free to use nauseous in place of nauseated. There is support for whichever you choose to use.

Happy writing!

Snarky editor’s note: My author actually uses the words in the proper traditional sense, does not think I’m a jerk, and loves my silly sense of humor.

¹”Nauseous.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. 2015 Web 29 May. 2015.

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