“Avenge” vs. “Revenge”

By Mark Nichol

What’s the difference between avenge and revenge? They can be used interchangeably as verbs, though avenge is more common and revenge is used more often as a noun.

Both avenge and revenge, which share the Anglo-French root venger, meaning “to avenge” (ultimately from Latin vindicare, whence also vindicate and vindication), mean “to take vengeance, to retaliate for a wrong.” (The former is slightly more exalted in tone than the latter, implying righteous retribution rather than mere payback.) Unlike revenge, however, avenge is not used in noun form to mean “vengeance, retaliation.” In addition, one who avenges is an avenger, but there is no parallel form based on revenge.

Venge, an obsolete variant, is the basis of the noun vengeance, which has a literal meaning nearly synonymous with revenge (as with avenge and the verb revenge, vengeance has a more elevated connotation than the noun revenge), but in the idiomatic phrase “with a vengeance,” it means “excessively” or “vehemently.” The adjective vengeful (and the adverb vengefully and the noun vengefulness, meaning “the quality of feeling vengeful”) also stems from the archaic form.

One can also be said to be revengeful, and to act revengefully or to feel revengefulness, but these are needless variants of the simpler forms described above.

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13 Responses to ““Avenge” vs. “Revenge””

  • thebluebird11

    What?! No parallel form based on “revenge”? I say we coin one! I say “revenger” is a word! 😉

  • Curtis

    By Grapthar’s hammer . . .

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

    “I will avenge you!”, said by Khan.

  • Klownzie

    ”ultimately from Latin vindicare, whence also vindicate and vindication”

    The second part of the sentence is missing a verb: ”whence also vindicate and vindication come from.”

    Other than that, great post, as usual.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Quoting from the article: “The former is slightly more exalted in tone than the latter, implying righteous retribution rather than mere payback.”

    I would say that “avenge” is MUCH more exalted in tone than “revenge”, and that “slightly more” is completely incorrect.

    For example, during World War II the U.S. Navy had a carrier-borne bomber** named the TBF Avenger that had wide service in the War in the Pacific, dropping torpedoes, firing rockets, and dropping bombs against the Japanese forces. Its name “Avenger” came from the concept of avenging the unprovoked Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. These warplanes were produced by the Grumman Aircraft Company on Long Island, New York.

    **All TBF Avengers were produced in the the United States, but in the course of the war and the following years, they were also flown by the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, the French Navy from aircraft carriers, and from land bases by the U.S. Marine Corps and various air forces. The models of this airplane that were produced by the General Motors Corp. were called the TBM Avenger in the Navy’s naming system.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The second part of the sentence is missing a verb: ”whence also came vindicate and vindication.”

  • Sally

    ‘Revenge’ as a verb seems (as far as I can divine) to be obsolete in most parts of the English-speaking world.

    Here, one “seeks / takes outside the US/gets etc revenge on or against someone for something” or one “avenges something (an act / insult etc).”

    I’ve never noted a “difference in level” between the two, but then I’m a pretty sanguine person…

  • Sally

    Oh dear, “outside the US” belongs with paragraph 1.

  • Mark Nichol

    Curtis:

    Never give up. Never surrender.

  • Lyn

    I have always made the distinction that one gets “revenge” for a personal injury, wrong or betrayal to oneself but “avenges” a wrong done to someone else. This discussion has given me new things to consider. Thanks.

  • Julie

    Please correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not a native English speaker):
    I thought “revenge ” was just for yourself while “avenge” is for someone else.
    Can you revenge someone?

  • thebluebird11

    @Klownzie
    “Whence” means “from where.” If you want to revamp the sentence, you could consider saying “whence vindicate and vindication come,” or “whence come vindicate and vindication.” Addition of the word “from” would be redundant.

  • K.Vee.Shanker.

    I’ve read that revenge is usually a barbaric outburst of an victim/victim’s relative. It is an undesirable act. Whereas, avenge is said to be somewhat a desirable/honorable reaction to someone’s action!

    Examples:

    Revenge: He took revenge on the perpetrator who killed his daughter, by killing him.

    Avenge: 1)He avenged the killer by getting him convicted under law.
    2)He avenged his last tournament defeat by defeating Ram in this Champions trophy!

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