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?