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Thread: awful vs terrible

  1. #1
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    awful vs terrible

    Please! Can someone explaine me = what is different between "awful" and "terrible"???
    in wich case I should use awful? In wich = terrible?
    Please!

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    Sure, I can help with this!

    The two words have similar meanings, and in a lot of cases, you can say either one. "This burned food is awful. This burned food is terrible." Same meaning.

    However, there is a subtle difference. For one thing (probably you already know it but I'll mention it for good luck), "awfulLY" can be used just like the word "really" or like I sometimes use очень in Russian - to mean much, a lot, extreme, etc.. In that case there is no negative meaning at all. "This gourmet food is awfully good! This gourmet food is really good!" Same meaning.

    The two words themselves mean almost the same thing, but here's the difference.. the root of Terrible is "Terror" and the root of "Awful" is "awe". (I'm somewhat shortening logic here, and linguists could argue this point, but for explanation purposes, it's accurate.) So, whenever anything is Terrible, it is bad to the point that someone could be terrified by it - not only bad, but INHERENTLY bad, and a lot of times this means bad beyond hope of repair.

    "Awful" is nearly the same meaning, but its exact meaning is "so bad as to inspire awe". At some point in history, the "bad" connotation wasn't present, and only the "awe" was. Over time, we came to understand it as meaning "bad" too. So if something is awful, there might still be hope it can be made better.

    This is really me splitting linguistic hairs, and for 99% of everything, these words mean the same thing - in general usage, no one will ever wonder why you used one word and not the other.. In order to understand the difference, I had to dissolve the word into its root parts.

    Thanks for the question!
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    oh! Thank you! it is very helpful)

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    Kozyablo, if you don't mind we could further discuss usage of 'awesome' and 'terrific' in this topic. 
    I would be happy to have as many answers as possible from different English-speaking countries (i.e. in what sense would someone from a particular region use these 2 words), as these 2 words might confuse learners of English. The point is, simply, that these 2 words can both mean 'great'(good, excellent) and 'horrible'(bad, very bad).

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    Hey Alexsms... you are correct... awesome and terrific when used sarcastically have the opposite meaning.

    Mom: Hi Honey, how was school today?
    Daughter: Awesome, some jerk pulled the fire alarm and we had to stand outside in the rain for 30 minutes until they let us go back inside.

    Mom: Hi honey, how was school today?
    Daughter: Awesome, some jerk pulled the fire alarm and because of it we had to stand outside for 30 minutes and I missed all of geometry class! Woot-woot!

    Mom: Hi honey, how was school today?
    Daughter: Terrific, we had a pop quiz in history and I failed it.

    Mom, Hi honey how was school today?
    Daughter: Terrific! You know how I reread that chapter in my history book last night? Well, we had this pop quiz and it was on that very chapter and I got a 100!
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    I will expand your vocabulary: you can say "gross" or "horrible" too. Now it's even more difficult to choose between the words. Good luck (-:

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    Завсегдатай rockzmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 192 View Post
    I will expand your vocabulary: you can say "gross" or "horrible" too. Now it's even more difficult to choose between the words. Good luck (-:
    Hmmmm... Maybe I'm not understanding you correctly but I don't believe I would ever use "gross" instead of "horrible" or the other way around.

    "gross" and maybe "disgusting"
    "horrible" and maybe "terrible"

    but gross and horrible???

    Maybe it is a British thing and not American? Would you provide an example of how you would be able to choose between these words?
    I only speak two languages, English and bad English.
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