Nauseated or Nauseous? Here’s Why the Wrong Choice is Bothersome

sickness, illness, stomachache

A recent newspaper column took on the debate over nauseated or nauseous by making an example of recent remakes by the former director of the FBI.

If you’re feeling your stomach churning, are you nauseated or nauseous?

Some people assume, mistakenly, that the two words are interchangeable, but technically, they aren’t at all. Though I’ve written on this topic before, I had to chuckle when I saw this headline in a Chicago Tribune commentary:

It nauseated me to hear Comey use ‘nauseous’

From that headline alone, I’m sure you can guess that it’s nauseated, not nauseous, that means feeling like you’re going to throw up.

The commentary referred to former FBI Director James Comey’s recent comments about feeling “mildly nauseous” about his apparently unintended hand in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The commentary then goes on to critique other common, but still annoying grammar gaffes that are far too common these days.

Nauseous is, unfortunately, commonly misused when the speaker or writer means nauseated. The difference is simple enough:

Nauseated means feeling like you’re going to be sick.

Nauseous refers to the thing that makes you feel nauseated.

The distinction between the two, I’m sure, seems minor to some. But for those of us who know the correct meanings of the two words, it’s like saying someone feels “inspirational” when they really feel “inspired.”

It’s exactly the same difference: something that inspires someone is “inspirational” while the person who experiences that motivation is “inspired.” If people started reversing the two words just for the heck of it, wouldn’t that annoy you?

For some, it seems, such misuses never bothers them. “Oh, the language is evolving,” they say, and go on as if nothing is wrong. I wonder why those people have any regard for language at all if they’re going to be so flippant about word usage; after all, they still follow grammar rules themselves even if they don’t see the value in them.

In any case, the next time you’re sick, remember: if you begin to feel like vomiting may be in your immediate future, you’re feeling nauseated. And I hope if you do experience that feeling, it doesn’t last too long.


    1. Sorry, Henry…

      “But it’s in the dictionary” is not a valid excuse for incorrect usage. The dictionary is not a usage manual. It merely defines the way people use words, even wrongly, so that others understand the intent.

      The word irregardless is in the dictionary, though it’s not even a valid word: people mean regardless or irrespective, but the wrong word is used often enough these days that the dictionary has to define it so people know should have been used instead.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 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.