Nauseous and nauseated are often used interchangeably, with nauseous being the more common word of choice.

To many people, the following two sentences have exactly the same meaning:

Example 1: I feel nauseated when I am nervous.

Example 2: I feel nauseous when I am nervous.

In both sentences, the speaker is referring to a feeling of queasiness. It is common to hear the second example above, which uses nauseous in place of nauseated. These words can have two distinct meanings (though few seem to make the distinction): nauseous referring to something that actually causes a feeling of sickness, and nauseated referring to the actual sensation of sickness, as illustrated in the following sentences:

Example 3 (nauseous-correct usage): The smell of rotten eggs is nauseous.

Example 4 (nauseated-correct usage): The smell of rotten eggs makes me nauseated.

Example 3 illustrates the restrictive usage of the word nauseous, referring to the smell of rotten eggs, something which causes a feeling of sickness. In Example 4, nauseated, not nauseous, is used to refer to the actual feeling of sickness caused by the smell of the rotten eggs.

Please note that the word nauseating is synonymous with nauseous in that both refer to something that causes nausea. To say, “The smell of rotten eggs is nauseating” is the same as saying, “The smell of rotten eggs is nauseous.”

Posted in Word Choice.

If you enjoyed this post, sign up to receive updates by RSS feed or e-mail.


  1. Maynard says:

    Hello there! I actually enjoyed reviewing your post.
    Hope you compose more like this!

  2. Virginia Nygard says:

    This whole subject is making me…uh…oh, just choose your favorite form of the word.:>)

  3. Vivienne says:

    My pet hate – when people say “I’m bored of” instead of “I’m bored with”
    “the idea centres around….” instead of “centres on”

    arghghghghgh! 🙂

    God Bless Sheldon Cooper

  4. Judi says:

    I feel sick.
    Rotten eggs stink.
    Problem solved.

  5. Hokus says:

    Technically, “nauseated” refers to the feeling that the “queazy” person is feeling. “Nauseous” applies to the feeling that someone gives off to others. For instance, I am “nauseous” if I smell as though I have just bathed in a pile of manure and people around me start excreting wastes through their mouths (still, it is not very pleasant). I am “nauseated” if I feel as though I am about to (oh, whatever) throw up. Although this was the original meaning, lazy americans have changed it because they wanted to spare themselves the poor media (reminds me of W.).

  6. Allen says:


    Your OED seems to be different from mine. Mine has definition 1: Inclined to nausea, and the first reference is 1604, not 1885. Indeed, it is the original meaning of the word.

    This meaning was in use for 300 years before anyone objected to it. If you look through Google Books, you’ll find it frequently used in medical texts.

    It is never an error.

  7. Usagecritic says:

    Really, now, what are we debating? In speech, be Descriptive. If everyone understands, is that not the objective? Language is, if nothing else, organic. In writing, however, I draw the line. It’s taken me years of study to write proficiently. I’ve earned the right to be snobbish and exacting about proper usage and grammar (did I use the preposition correctly?). So even if you don’t speak no good English, doesn’t mean you have to write like you don’t speak it well.

    • criticcritic says:

      Spending years to perfect your writing does not give you the right to be snobbish about proper usage and grammar (unless you are teaching a class). A psychologist who spends years learning about psychopathology does not suddenly earn the right to criticize the behavior of strangers. A fashion designer does not have the right to walk up to strangers and tell them how their clothes are outdated.

      Many of the rules of the English language are quite ridiculous and counter-intuitive. Sure, we could all spend years learning obscure rules, but many of us have more important things to do. Would you rather your surgeon be an expert on conducting your operation, or an expert at writing? When you die from the poorly conducted operation, he or she can then write a perfectly-constructed letter of regret to your relatives.

      Language is built by consensus. All words were at some point invented by someone. There is no universal law of language that exists outside of our understanding. And if 99% of people use a phrase in a particular way, then of course I will use it that way as well — no matter what the 1% group of snobs thinks about it.

      In short, we all have some area of expertise or some attribute that can tempt us to be snobs. Tall people can look down on short people (aside from the literal interpretation), the rich can look down on the poor, the religious can look down on the non-religious, athletes on non-athletes, high IQ individuals on low IQ individuals, and so on. We don’t need to study in an area for years to be a snob. By simply being born, we are all given the right to be a prig, just as we all have the right to be a boor. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

      If you don’t attack the details of my writing, I won’t attack your overly rigid use of language as an infantile attempt to secure stability in world that fills you with profound anxiety and dread. There are treatments for obsessive-complusive disorders. Life is too short to be snobbish about anything. We should respect one another. The written word, just like the spoken word, is about communicating an idea. And, as much as it may bother you, the world of writing is changing drastically. We are now operating at a speed that necessitates communicating ideas quickly — and that is accomplished partially by taking shortcuts with our writing.

      And to the others, don’t be bullied by self-proclaimed grammar guardians. Just nod your head, smile to yourself, and be glad your life isn’t filled with such pettiness.

      Usagecritic — if you genuinely did not understand one of the points I was trying to make, then please ask me for clarification. This message took me 14 minutes to write, and would take another 40 for me to write well. I have better things to do than dress up my writing for snobs. If my points were not properly conveyed, then I do indeed need to improve my writing skills. But if you did understand my points, then I accomplished my goal without needing all those years of study.

      I’m glad you make concessions on the spoken word. I know a few individuals who frequently stop speakers mid-sentence to correct their language. I usually reply by pointing out how their jacket sleeves are 2-3 cm too long, their half-windsor doesn’t have the proper dimple below the knot, and they have a couple of spots on their neck that should be monitored for possible melanoma. Our days would be nothing but a chore if we all were so critical.

  8. Wendy says:

    @indielibrarian I find the Oxford Dixtionary of English useful at times, however, I have found some mistakes there too. I have the audio iPad version and it only gives one acceptable version of “short-lived”, the version which has been so misused that it is now considered correct!

  9. arparp says:

    The best argument for using nauseated is that that usage of nauseous is not as well-accepted outside the United States.

  10. Don Ranly says:

    I’m so glad you commented on these two words. I SELDOM hear them used correctly.

    Nice going!

  11. indielibrarian says:

    The OED has the following definition for “nauseous:” Of a person: affected with nausea; having an unsettled stomach; (fig.) disgusted, affected with distaste or loathing.

    The first usage of “nauseous” in this way is recorded as 1885, so it is NOT a new usage. It is perfectly acceptable, therefore, to say, “I feel nauseous.”

  12. Darken says:

    True. I suppose my biggest problem is how just weird it sounds to say, “I feel nauseated. And also how weird it sounds to say, “The smell of rotten eggs is nauseous.” For each of those respectively I prefer nauseous and then nauseating. Also the link I posted seems to have an additional usage note which seems to line up with what you’ve said.

    Usage Note : Traditional critics have insisted that nauseous is properly used only to mean “causing nausea” and that it is incorrect to use it to mean “affected with nausea,” as in Roller coasters make me nauseous. In this example, nauseated is preferred by 72 percent of the Usage Panel. Curiously, though, 88 percent of the Panelists prefer using nauseating in the sentence The children looked a little green from too many candy apples and nauseating (not nauseous ) rides. Since there is a lot of evidence to show that nauseous is widely used to mean “feeling sick,” it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect. In its “correct” sense it is being supplanted by nauseating.

  13. Rachel V. says:

    Darken: Thanks for your comments. The nauseous/nauseated debate is one in which common usage seems to trump correctness. (Think of lie/lay and who/whom. How many people do you know who use these correctly or even understand the differences? Before long, the incorrect versions will be considered correct.) In my copy of The American Heritage Book of English Usage, 72 percent of the consulting panel (consisting of professionals in writing and speaking professions), preferred nauseated in a sentence such as “Roller coasters make me nauseous.” However, nauseous does seem to be winning out overall. Perhaps I should rewrite this entry to reflect the changing views of nauseous usage.

  14. Darken says:

    So “The smell of rotten eggs makes me nauseous.” would work as well. Sorry for all the comments. I tend to to get a lot of afterthoughts. Oh, and sorry if I sound rude. I’m not trying to be.

  15. Darken says:

    Check the usage note. Yeah, this was exactly how I was using it and it turns out that I wasn’t using it incorrectly after all.

  16. Darken says:

    Thank you for these articles. They have been of some help to me. But this one didn’t feel quite right so I checked the definition. It turns out that ‘nauseous’ can be used in the following way:, “I feel nauseous.”. Here is my reference: