Averse vs. Adverse

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It is easy to confuse adverse and averse but their meanings are totally different.

Adverse means unfavorable, contrary or hostile, and can never be applied to humans. You often hear it used in the term ‘adverse weather conditions’, a phrase which is best avoided in favor of ‘bad weather’.

Averse means unwilling or disinclined or loath and is always followed by the preposition ‘to’. It applies to a person and is used like this: ‘He was averse to discussing the conference’. Of course, it would be just as easy to say. ‘He didn’t want to discuss the conference’.

Overuse of both averse and adverse is likely to sound pompous. It’s always better to keep it simple.

The adjective aversion is much more common.

Here are some quotations from the press to help you see those words being used it in context:

But in fact, adolescents may be more risk-averse than adults, a new study has found. Their willingness to engage in risky behavior may have less to do with thrill-seeking per se than with a higher tolerance for uncertain consequences, researchers reported Monday. – LA Times

Many merger agreements contain provisions allowing buyers to withdraw from deals if the value of a transaction has been hurt by a significant development. In the case of the Verizon/Yahoo deal, such a change is defined as one that would “reasonably be expected to have a material adverse effect on the business, assets, properties, results of operation or financial condition of the Business, taken as a whole.” – WSJ

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12 thoughts on “Averse vs. Adverse”

  1. Averse can also follow a behavior to categorize people. For example, someone who invests in only very secure investments would be considered a risk averse.

  2. Good day gentlemen,

    this lesson provide a clear distinction in the Queen’s language, and I really appreciate were you to continued your good work.

    Good luck

  3. I detected some adverse grammatical conditions present in T. Daoda Carlon’s response, however I am averse to pointing it out. (So this is painful for me on a couple of levels.)

  4. Mentally substituting the noun form of averse usually clears up problems, as most people are more familiar with its usage.

    So instead of thinking “He is averse to education”, you would think “He has an aversion to education”.

  5. Ms. Daoda Carlon,
    I’m truly sorry to break it to you but it is *always* the ‘Kings English’; never the “Queens Language” regardless the monarch’s gender.

  6. Your definition insists adverse can never apply to humans yet there is a legal definition for an “adverse witness”, a witness who offers adverse testimony to the calling party during direct examination. I do not know that a witness can be anything but human. Perhaps this is a misnomer – the term “hostile witness” is also used interchangeably with “adverse witness”.

  7. I second “joe blow”. The word “averse” doesn’t ALWAYS have to followed by the preposition ‘to’ because it’s not always used as a verb. If it’s used as an adjective, it doesn’t have to be followed by the preposition.

    For instance, “The risk averse underwriter decided against insuring the nuclear power plant.”

    Am I wrong?

  8. The only thing you are wrong about, Brian, is saying that “averse” is not always used as a verb.

    “Averse” is never used as a verb. It’s always an adjective, even in sentences such as “He is averse to liberal government.”

  9. Come on – using this word will make you sound pompous? Give me a break. Should we all degenerate into using lol, omg, and other brainless test-speak?

  10. The point that adverse “can never be applied to humans” is wrong. In a legal setting, the opposite side, most often humans, is referred to as “adverse party” and not “averse party.”

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