Saturday, June 7, 2008

Adverse versus Averse: I'd Rather Not

Adverse conditions make me averse to work. How often we see these two words confused for one another, forced to assume roles for which they are ill-suited. Let us take a moment and review the abused and confused meanings.

If you would label something “adverse”, it must be hostile to or unfavorable for something else. Adverse current keep sailboats from landing. Stockbrokers sell when they read adverse financial reports. You use adverse as an adjective to explain that the related noun works against another thing.

Averse is also used as an adjective, and can also mean hostile. I'm not surprised that the two become confused in many writers' minds. The sense of the word generally indicates, however, a milder dislike or disinclination to act rather than actively working against an action. I may be averse to driving on the freeway, but I will do so when necessary. I'm not averse to a drink every now and again, but neither am I actively seeking one.

I could not come up with a sentence containing averse that did not have a passive construction. That seems fitting, considering the weakness of emotion it implies. You can change the first such example above to begin “I prefer not to drive on the freeway” without changing the meaning of the sentence. Thus, “I am averse to driving under adverse conditions” could be changed to “I would rather not drive in rough weather” without losing your point or confusing your readers.




No comments in all this time? I hope that means all comers take the advice and get back to writing, but somehow I doubt that; else we might have seen improvement by now.

<> ... But it does an excellent job of highlighting the subtle difference in meaning and usage; so perhaps it should be used often and liberally!