Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor


Episode 123: A Chapter about Averse

This week, we’re looking at a pair of useful words that Fowler’s Modern English Usage describes as "close in meaning but not identical": adverse and averse. It’s very easy to confuse these two words, and that confusion is further abetted by the fact that there is but one letter difference between them, and that they even sound somewhat similar.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, adverse is an adjective that means:

harmful; unfavorable; hostile

For example:

Because Nick is allergic to shellfish, he would have an adverse reaction if he were to eat lobster.

The adjective averse, meanwhile, means:

Strongly disliking or opposed to

It’s often followed by the preposition to; or occasionally the preposition from. For example:

Because Nick is allergic to shellfish, he is averse to eating lobster.

An error that frequently arises is the accidental use of adverse instead of averse in such sentences as:

Nick is adverse to eating any kind of shellfish. (sic)

What are some ways to avoid this mistake? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English tells us, unsurprisingly, that the adjective averse is related to the noun aversion, which means "a strong dislike."

I have an aversion to any food that contains ginger.

Averse and aversion are also related to the verb avert, which means "to turn away"—usually with reference to one’s eyes. The verb avert can also mean "prevent", particularly with reference to an unfortunate event.

The Oxford Dictionary of Current English explains that the adjective averse, noun aversion and verb avert all have a common Latin root: avertere, which means "turn away from."

So an easy way to remember averse is that it’s related to avert and aversion; that is, rejecting or turning something away. Or, as The AP Stylebook defines it: reluctant or opposed:

I am averse to smoking cigarettes.

Adverse, as simplified by the AP Stylebook, means harmful.

Smoking cigarettes causes adverse health effects.

On Grammar Grater, we like to give tips or hints, when possible, to help remember the distinctions between easy-to-confuse words. Here are a couple memory devices that could help distinguish adverse and averse:

  • When you are averse to something, you are avoiding it. a-verse, a-void.
  • If something is adverse, it is harmful or detrimental. Detrimental starts with D, and adverse has a D in it


These little tricks are a beginning. You may want to formulate some memory devices that work best for you.

Sources: Fowler’s Modern English Usage by RW Burchfield; Oxford Dictionary of Current English; Associated Press Stylebook

Music from this episode: "Rock Lobster" by the B-52s; "Leave the Biker" by Fountains of Wayne


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