Nauseous, Nauseated, Nauseating

It’s that time of year again.  No fun!  But let’s make it fun with a quick and useful grammar/vocabulary lesson.

What is “nausea”?  The root “nausea” is a noun, meaning:

  1. A feeling of physical unwellness, usually with the desire to vomit.
  2. Strong dislike or disgust.
  3. Sea-sickness.

Okay, we are probably all in agreement there.  But it gets confusing when you start to get into the verb and adjective forms.  So here we go.

“Nauseate” is a verb, meaning:

  1. To cause nausea.
  2. To disgust.

Still no disagreement?  Good!  But here comes the tricky part.  What is the difference between “nauseous,” “nauseated,” and “nauseating”?  Great question!  Here’s the answer.

“Nauseating” is an adjective, meaning:

  1. causing disgust, revulsion or loathing
  2. causing nausea

“Nauseated” is an adjective too, meaning:

  1. afflicted with nausea
  2. having a feeling of nausea

So what about “nauseous,” which seems to be used the most frequently?  Excellent inquiry!  “Nauseous,” also an adjective, means:

  1. causing disgust, revulsion or loathing
  2. causing nausea

So why do people say “I feel nauseous”?  This is perhaps the best question of all.  According to our good friends at Merriam Webster, the go-to authority on how people do speak (rather than how they necessarily should), “nauseous,” in actual American usage, has two meanings: (1) causing nausea or disgust: NAUSEATING, or (2) affected with nausea or disgust–nauseously adv — nauseousness n

Merriam Webster’s goes on to elaborate, claiming that “nauseous” is used in both senses, and the usage in the second sense is increasing all the time.  In my mind, however, that doesn’t make it right.

Here’s what I say:

Something that is gross is nauseating and/or nauseous.

If I feel sick, I feel nauseated.

I hope never to feel nauseous.

And I most certainly hope never to feel nauseating.

So while feeling “nauseous” might technically fly in some circles, it does not fly in mine.  As one source put it “[c]areful writers use ‘nauseated.'”  Exactly!

Any thoughts from our OED enthusiasts?  Non-American English speakers?  Non-native English speakers?  I anxiously await your thoughts/responses.

7 thoughts on “Nauseous, Nauseated, Nauseating

  1. Thank you, thank you ever so much for enlightening us as to what does and does not fly in your circle.

    P.S. This post makes me feel even more nauseous than usual.

  2. Is that sarcasm I detect, dear, dear Daisy M.? I thought it was OTHER blogs upon which we were having a hard time not unleashing our scathing sarcasm. Now I see the truth.

    Perhaps I should seek solace in the precept “we only hurt the ones we love.” But then, perhaps such solace would there be mis-sought.

    (Were I feeling defensive, I could point out that my “circle,” here referenced, includes only those that subscribe to a literal and logical reading of irrefutable sources, such as, say, the dictionary, and not just the dictates of rural parlance and whimsy. Were I feeling defensive…).

    (In truth, this post makes me feel somewhat nauseous myself. When did I get so cheesy and didactic? Clearly I am out of practice…).

  3. LOL. I was once corrected on my incorrect use of the word “nauseous”. From that point on I have tried to use in the right way. Still, this post is very enlightening and helpful.

  4. Well, I guess the point of the post is that “nauseous” isn’t technically wrong, especially American usage-wise. I just think these inquiries are fun and interesting. But I also realize that that interest makes me a great big DORK!

  5. My editor actually called me on this during a phone call.

    “Why would you say you are feeling nauseous? Are you making everyone around you sick?”

    I understand this sort of behavior in an editor and in a writer. If anyone else was correcting me on the fly I’d probably be annoyed, even though they would be right.

    • Well, I would never venture to correct you, on the fly or otherwise. And I don’t go around correcting people to their faces, or really at all. I will admit that certain grammatical missteps make me cringe, internally, but anyone that knows me knows that I would never rudely make someone feel stupid about how they speak. Certainly not in public, and unless asked directly, not even in private. This one (nauseous/nauseated/nauseating) is so common that “nauseous” has actually come to be recognized, through wide usage, as equivalent to nauseated. That’s how language, particularly the English language, and most particularly American English, works.

      I am not a writer, nor am I an editor. But I don’t call anyone out. I just have an interest in this stuff, and want to share that interest with anyone that is curious.

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