A Grammar Error to Turn Your Stomach


Last Updated on May 7, 2017

Here’s one of those little grammar mistakes that nearly everyone makes.

It involves the words nauseous and nauseated. The two words are not, as many seem to believe, interchangeable. Each has its own meaning and using the wrong one will convey something different from what you truly mean in most cases.

It’s one of the grammar mistakes nearly everyone makes because of the dictionary: yes, that little book that define words wasn’t really intended to be a usage manual, but rather to provide insight into what people mean when they say something. That’s why “irregardless,” which isn’t a proper word because it’s a double negative that’s always used incorrectly, is in the dictionary.

Check your dictionary, and you’ll likely find that one of the secondary definitions listed for nauseous will be nauseated.

Here’s what they’re supposed to mean:

NAUSEOUS: Something that causes one to feel sick, as though they might vomit.
NAUSEATED: The feeling of sickness that one might vomit.

So why does it matter that people are likely to say, “I feel nauseous” when they mean, “I feel nauseated”?

If someone says they feel nauseous, they’re actually (and likely unintentionally) saying that they fear that they’re making everyone else sick. Depending on the person, of course, they may be correct.

If someone says they feel nauseated, however, you should really back out of their way: if they’re smart enough to know which word is the correct one, they’re likely smart enough to know that vomiting is a real possibility.

No one wants to be in the path of that…unless they want to be “nauseous.”

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.


  • First person “I feel nauseous.”
    Second person “No your fine. I don’t feel nauseated.”
    First person “…”
    Second person “What?”
    First person “(Blech)”
    Second person “My mistake. You are nauseous. I definitely feel nauseated now.”

  • I wasn’t aware that I was using nauseous incorrectly!  I hope I’ll remember to use it the right way from now on!

    • Cathryn (aka Strange) There are times when I’ll write one of these, then worry that I need to go back and see how many times I’VE made the same mistake! 🙂

  • Actually…since people have misused this so often, they are essentially starting to mean the same thing, much like the word moot. See the usage note here:
    I don’t use either in spoken communication because I never pronounce them right. 😉

    • psalm23 Well, that goes to the fact that dictionaries also have to serve to explain how a word is being used, even when it’s being used incorrectly, just so people who look there can figure out what someone is saying. Most dictionaries aren’t so much designed to be style manuals as much as to explain what people mean when they use certain words.

      • patricksplace psalm23 I guess we have a problem: when is a word being used “incorrectly”? When everyone thinks you’re crazy when you do it, or when everyone thinks you’re crazy because you *don’t* do it? 

        My (British) nieces constantly use “alright” in their emails–it makes me insane, but they were taught that it is perfectly legit; I was taught that it’s an abomination along the lines of swearing in church. So, which of us is/are right?

        • psalm23 One of the ways we know is from the American Heritage Dictionary, a text that attempts to provide a context of proper usage with description of common usage. There’s always going to be someone who says, “It’s no big deal how you say it,” or “It doesn’t bother me when people use this word or that word ‘wrong.'” This is the point where there sometimes must be an agreement to disagree.
          With any language, we have to have some sort of standard, from which proper usage flows and from which improper usage evolves.
          My purpose in these grammar pieces is to report the “proper” use of a word; I can’t force anyone else to accept that use as proper themselves, but I think pointing out how the words are “supposed” to work at least informs people who wish to improve their writing and vocabulary.

  • This was a pet peeve of an editor I had in college. Funny how quickly you learn your editor’s peeves and how to use those words correctly. 🙂

    • profkrg A copy-editing professor I met during a summer journalism workshop before my freshman year of college instilled in me my dislike of “due to” to mean “because of.” It’s still my biggest pet peeve.

  • Another common error is split infinitives.
    Example: It’s best to never take undue risks – this is incorrect.
    It’s best never to take undue risks 🙂

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