Word Choice: Nauseous, Nauseated, or Nauseating?
  • 3-minute read
  • 18th July 2018

Word Choice: Nauseous, Nauseated, or Nauseating?

Do grammatical errors make you feel sick? If so, are you feeling “nauseous” or “nauseated”? These words cause a lot of strife among grammarians, so we thought we would clear up some of the controversies by looking at three terms in detail: “nauseous,” “nauseated” and “nauseating.”

Time to take your grammatical medicine!

Nauseous (Causing Nausea or Feeling Sick)

“Nauseous” is an adjective with two distinct meanings in modern English:

  1. Causing nausea or disgust nausea or disgust
  2. Feeling sick or disgusted

The traditional meaning of “nauseous” is the first definition above. For example, we might say:

The rotting meat gave off a nauseous smell.

Here, “nauseous” implies that the smell of the meat is disgusting.

Some (pedantic) people will insist that this first definition is the only “correct” use of this term. However, in practice, the second definition is widely used as well. As such, we could also say:

The smell of the rotting meat made me nauseous.

In this case, “nauseous” describes the feeling of nausea. This is, in fact, the most common meaning of this term in modern English and almost always how it is used in everyday language.

Nauseated (Feeling Sick or Disgusted)

The traditional word for feeling sick or disgusted is “nauseated.” This makes it like the second sense of “nauseous” above, so we would use it as follows:

His disgusting habits left me nauseated.

This term is actually the simple past tense of the verb “nauseate,” which means “to cause nausea.”

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Nauseating (Causing Nausea)

Another variation of this term is the adjective “nauseating,” which means “causing nausea or disgust.” It is therefore used in the same way as the first definition of “nauseous” above. For instance:

I find violent movies nauseating.

The adverbial form of this word is “nauseatingly,” which is used when describing an action.

Nauseous, Nauseated or Nauseating?

So, with all of these overlapping meanings, how do you avoid errors when using these terms? Most of the time, using either “nauseous” or “nauseated” to mean “feeling sick or disgusted” is fine.

You can then use “nauseating” to describe something that causes nausea or disgust, since this term only has one meaning.

However, some still prefer to use the old-fashioned meaning of “nauseous,” especially in formal medical writing. Keep in mind, then, that it may specifically mean “causing nausea” in some cases.

Nauseous = Causing nausea or feeling sick

Nauseated = Feeling sick or disgusted

Nauseating = Causing nausea

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