Averse vs. Adverse: What’s the Difference?

Today I want to talk about two words that aren’t quite homophones but can still be confusing when you go to put them on paper.

Those two words are averse vs. adverse, which are related in origin and also have similar meanings. On top of this, they are only one letter apart from each other, so it’s easy to see how writers can get them confused.

After reading this post, you shouldn’t have any trouble remembering the difference between these two words. I’ll go over their definitions, their functions in a sentence, and give you a few tips to remember them in the future.

When to Use Averse

risk averse vs risk adverseAverse is an adjective and is defined as “having a feeling of opposition, distaste, or aversion; reluctant.” For example,

  • I prefer investors who are risk-averse.
  • Your father is averse to asking for directions.
  • I am not averse to a little controversy every now and then.

The word averse is used to describe a person’s attitude towards things but not people. For example, you might say you are averse to hunting, but you wouldn’t say you are averse to hunters.

In a similar vein, just as you can say you are averse to something, you can also say that you have an aversion to something but usually not aversion from.

Averse to or Averse from?

Averse to is a widespread phrase that is used to express dislike, opposition, or hostility. However, the phrase adverse from was originally prescribed by Samuel Johnson as the preferred way to use averse. Traditionalists still prefer to see it written this way, writing off adverse to as nonsensical because the original Latin meaning or averse is “turn from.”

In both U.S. and British English, however, averse to is by far the more common variant and is widely accepted outside of a select few traditionalists. The Chicago Manual of Style, The AP Stylebook, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, OED, American Heritage, and others all list averse to as acceptable.

When to Use Adverse

grammar of adverse or averseAdverse is also an adjective and is defined as “to be acting in opposition.” It can also mean unfortunate or harmful. For example,

  • The United States has had adverse relations with Cuba for many years.
  • Tomorrow there will be adverse weather conditions; be careful.
  • The writer face adverse criticism for her column last week.

Adverse is applied to situations, conditions, or events but never to humans.

So, What’s the Difference?

You still may not be exactly sure of the difference. These words can be kind of confusing.

The best way to think about it is that averse describes an attitude or feeling, while adverse describes something that works against something else.

Put differently, averse describes a gut reaction you have about something, whereas adverse describes something beyond you, such as an event.

Tricks to Remember

A good way to remember the difference between these two words is to look at their corresponding nouns.

The corresponding noun of averse is aversion. Again, this deals with a person’s feelings or attitude.

The corresponding noun of adverse is adversity. Adversity refers to difficulties or misfortune that act against something.

Summary

These two words have similar senses, but adverse vs. averse should not be confused with each other.

Averse describes a feeling a person has about something.

Adverse describes something that is working against something else. It can never be applies to humans.