Friday, October 5, 2007

Eager vs. Anxious

By Josi S. Kilpack

There are some words in the English language that seem to be interchangeable but are not. One that I have confused many, many times is eager and anxious. They both seem to denote the same thing, anticipating something--but they are in fact very different and should be used in the proper context.

The easiest way to remember the difference is that eager is something looked forward to, something wanted. Anxious is something that causes worry or strain, it refers directly to anxiety, which is not something any of us want.

She was eager to finally meet the man behind such poignant editorials. (This denotes that she is looking forward to it.)

If, however, she was nervous about the meeting, the sentence could read

She was anxious about finally meeting the man behind such poignant editorials.

Choosing which word is important in appropriately relaying your character's thoughts, feelings and impressions of certain events. Generally, if the event is positive, eager works as the modifier, if the event is negative, anxious is more appropriate.

She eagerly waited for the doctor to burn off her wart. (If this does not make sense, you have not had any warts burned off)

He kissed her with anxious lips. (I think I'll pass on anxious lips, but eager ones are very welcome.)

She anxiously awaited the official call that would tell her she was a millionaire. (I think I would be far more eager than anxious about receiving a call like this)

The door was locked and she dove behind the garbage can as she heard his footsteps enter the room. She was more eager than ever as she imagined what would happen when he found her. (I think you get the point.)

However, part of the fun of the English language is that there are times when eager or anxious could be used interchangeably, such as:

I'm eager to find out what my cholesterol is now.
I'm anxious to find out what my cholesterol is now.

Either word could work depending on how your character feels. If she's been eating her oatmeal and unpasteurized eggs religiously, she might very well be eager to see what progress has been made in her triglycerides. However, if she has not kicked her Big Mac habit, anxious better denotes her anticipation of the test result.

For me, learning tips like this has been a slow process. Reader's Digest's Word Power has been very helpful to me, as has having friends like Annette Lyon to explain the significance of some words and the context they are meant to be used in.

Some other examples of other words often used synonymously, but depending on context can be very different are:

obese vs. overweight~there are many overweight people that do not fall in the range of obese, which is generally 30% above normal weight for their height and means that their health is threatened.
trim vs. thin~You wouldn't ask for a thin steak if what you wanted was a trim one.
sugary vs. sweet~A bananas flavor would not be described as sugary.

Can you think of any others?


Heather B. Moore said...

It's also easy to confuse words such as insure & ensure . . . Thanks for the explanation of eager vs. anxious. Very clear.

Stephanie Black said...

"Nauseated" versus "nauseous" is my pet peeve. If you are nauseated, you feel sick. If something is nauseous, it makes other people feel sick.

Janette Rallison said...

My dad could come up with all sorts of these. There were many discussions at our house as to how one could feel. Ond doesn't feel good, unless one has good feeling in ones fingertips. And if you feel badly, then you're doing it wrong. You feel well. You feel bad. Then there's the word get--I just don't want to get into that one though.

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Luckily I've not had problems with those. Lay and lie are ultimate nemeses . . . nemises . . . huh, what would that word be?

Annette Lyon said...

Stephanie, yay! I'm not the only person who gets annoyed with nauseated/nauseous used wrong!

Josi, thanks for the kind words. I know I'm an odd duck in that I really enjoy this kind of thing.

I have an entire list of pet peeves, and I'll probably blog about them here at some point.

One of my biggest peeves: mixing up imply/infer. People often use INFER when they mean IMPLY. You infer (interpret) what someone says, which they may have implied.

Tom M said...

This blog entry was forwarded to me at work today. Around here (a group of engineers, nonetheless), we have a certain level of respect for Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which some of you may be familiar with. Fowler says the following:

"anxious. The objections made to it in the sense eager (to hear, improve, go , etc), as a modernism, and in the sense likely to cause anxiety (It is a very a. business; You will find her an a. charge) as an archaism, are negligible; both are natural developments, the first is almost universally current, and the second is still not infrequent."

We ultimately agreed on the distinction made by this blog, but we also thought that this excerpt would be found interesting.