Nauseous vs. Nauseated: What’s the Difference?

The misuse of either one of these words is nauseating for some, but many don’t know the difference—or if there is one at all.

Today, I want to clear up any confusion between nauseous and nauseated.

What is the Difference Between Nauseous and Nauseated?

If you are nauseated, you are sick to your stomach. You don’t feel well; your head is spinning; and you might throw up at any minute.

If you are nauseous, on the other hand, you make other people want to throw up.

What do I mean by this? I’ll outline everything below by going over the traditional distinction between these two words.

Let’s compare nauseous vs. nauseated.

When to Use Nauseous

how to spell nauseous versus nauseatedWhat does nauseous mean? Nauseous is defined as causing nausea; sickening. In this sense, nauseous is an adjective and something that is nauseous will cause you to feel sick or experience nausea.

  • This is a nauseous roller coaster full of twists and turns.
  • His nauseous jokes were inappropriate for the workplace.
  • The medications they took could make them choke on their food, and when they overdosed on pills, they were fed a nauseous black slime of activated charcoal that bound the pills so they could not be digested. –The New York Times

When to Use Nauseated

nauseated or nauseous meaningWhat does nauseated mean? Nauseated is defined as to experience or feel nausea. In this sense, nauseated is a verb and to feel sick is to be nauseated.

  • After the marathon, I felt nauseated from a lack of fluids.
  • I was nauseated after hearing the story.
  • There are many reasons we might feel nauseated, and drinking liquids is often the fastest way to fight back. Many people have their pet remedies, such as cola, ginger ale and coconut water. –The Wall Street Journal

What is the Rule for Nauseated vs. Nauseous?

Here is the traditional rule for nauseated vs. nauseous,

  • Nauseated means to experience nausea.
  • Nauseous means causing or inducing nausea.

In other words, to feel sick is to be nauseated, and anything that is nauseous induces a feeling of nausea.

If I just rode a twirling roller coaster and I want to throw up, I am feeling nauseated because of the nauseous coaster.

Are Nauseated and Nauseous Interchangeable?

define nauseous and define nauseatedThe answer to this question depends on whom you ask, of course. Many traditionalists hold that the distinction must be preserved.

The problem is, however, nauseous has all but replaced nauseated to mean experiencing nausea. Publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times, etc., rarely, if ever, make the distinction these days.

Garner’s Modern American Usage says that using nauseous when nauseated is meant (Example: I feel nauseous) is becoming so common that to call it an error is to exaggerate. Still, The Chicago Manual of Style calls this slipup poor usage.

Clearly the tides are shifting on the usage of these words. There is even some evidence to show that nauseating is now the preferred word for causing nausea, e.g., a nauseating ride, a nauseating smell, a nauseating odor, etc.

In other words, nauseous may have supplanted nauseated to mean experiencing nausea, with nauseating replacing nauseous to mean to cause nausea.

What is the bottom line? If you are doing a bit of formal or professional writing, you might want to observe the traditional distinction. If you are writing casually and choose not to observe it (or are unaware of its existence), it’s likely that no one will even notice.


If this post hasn’t yet made you nauseated, here is a quick summary. Should I use nauseous or nauseated?

The traditional rule goes like this,

Nauseous is used to describe something that causes nausea.

Nauseated is used when someone is experiencing nausea.