Friday, January 3, 2014

Get It Right: Nauseous and Nauseated

Today I'll be addressing a personal pet peeve: the difference between nauseous and nauseated. Have you ever had someone correct you and say that you can't be nauseous but you can be nauseated? Annoying, isn't it? Today we will show you how, finally, the grammar Nazis are wrong. However, before we even get into the differences between the two terms, let's have a look at some common suffixes.

Suffixes are common word endings that can, and usually do, dictate word type. Our two words for today, nauseous and nauseated, share a common root - nausea. The word nausea comes from the Ionic Greek nautia, which made its way into Latin as nausea, literally meaning seasickness. Now that we understand our root, we can begin to understand today's problematic words.

Ericameria nauseosa, also known as "rubber rabbitbrush".
The suffix -ous also comes from Latin, which means it pairs well with words with Latin roots. Though the Latin suffix was spelled -osus, it made its way into French as both -ous and -eux, whereas the former is preferred in English. This suffix makes a noun into an adjective as the suffix effectively means "having, full of, having to do with, inclined to", therefore making nauseous mean literally, full of nausea.

Our second word is from a verb, the infinitive to nauseate meaning "to become sick" or "be affected by nausea". Nauseated is of course the past participle of to nauseate, meaning that the person has been affected by nausea.

Most grammar Nazis will tell you that you can only use nauseous in reference to the thing that will make you feel ill, unwell, or akin to seasickness, such as rotten fish, mouldy cheese (except the good kinds that are meant to have mould), and dog poo. These self-righteous leaders of grammar will also tell you that you feel nauseated as a result of the aforementioned nauseous agents. Now that we have looked at the roots of these words can you really agree with them? Especially since if you feel sick you definitely have or are full of nausea, right?

Once you actually look at the word roots and take the time to find out what they mean, you'll understand why the OED and Merriam-Webster dictionaries both state that the two words can pretty much be used interchangeably with nauseous referring to feeling sick and the thing that makes you feel thus, and nauseated only referring to the feeling of being sick.

Next time a grammar Nazi tries to insult your intelligence by telling you that you don't feel nauseous but rather nauseated, you can tell them that their self-righteous and incorrect grammar correction is nauseous and makes you feel both nauseous and nauseated. Guess I have a few people to apologise to...

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