Passionate and Impassioned

By Maeve Maddox

A reader wonders about the words passionate and impassioned:

Do they mean the same thing? If not, when should you use one and not the other?

The word passion derives from a Latin verb that means “to suffer” or “to undergo.” One use of the noun is to name the sufferings of Jesus. For example, a “passion play” is a performance that reenacts the arrest and death of Jesus. The title of Dreyer’s play about the trial of Joan of Arc is called The Passion of Joan of Arc in reference to her sufferings, which the filmmaker felt paralleled the sufferings of Christ.

Another sense of passion is “strong emotion.” It can refer to sexual passion or to a strong emotion like anger or indignation.

A passionate person is readily swayed by emotions. In such expressions as “a passionate kiss” and “a passionate embrace,” the connotation is usually sexual.

Someone swayed by strong feelings about some nonsexual purpose might be described as “a passionate reformer,” or “a passionate preacher.” Sports enthusiasts are said to be “passionate about football.”

Although the words are mostly synonymous, impassioned perhaps has the connotation of strong feeling rooted in conviction.

Here are some recent examples of both adjectives as used on the Web:

The actor then applied to the Grand Duke, and the latter, a passionate lover of dogs, signified his desire that the request be granted.

Part II explores the ways that prosecutorial passion might affect plea.

Because marriage is for the rest of my life, I think it will be more enjoyable if I married a person who is like a friend, as opposed to marrying for passionate love.

WVU Women’s Basketball Carey wants passionate effort against Oklahoma

Freida Pinto Gave An Impassioned Feminist Speech Every Woman And Man Needs To Hear
Impassioned crowds protest Ferguson decision in Boston

Synonyms for passionate when the context is sexual:
amorous
ardent
loving
sexy
sensual
erotic
lustful

Synonyms for passionate in other contexts:
intense
emotional
fervent
vehement
heated
spirited
energetic
frenzied
fiery
wild
violent

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1 Response to “Passionate and Impassioned”

  • David Knuttunen

    I think that “impassioned” may imply a more relative or temporary state, and “passionate” a more existential one. At least sometimes. For instance, I am a “passionate” person if that term implies a general state of my nature, but I become “impassioned” (if not “incensed”) about the teenagers littering my lawn. But I can be “passionate” about saving the whales, and give either an “impassioned” or “passionate” speech about it. So if this is a general rule, it is not an easy one to apply, except maybe in the negative? (I.e., one would not use “impassioned” to describe a general quality of a person? Unless it was with an adverb like “frequently” or “easily”?)

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