The other day I was among a group saying goodbye to our friend Carol, who is traveling to several countries in the Middle East, places where we fear a bit for her safety. One friend, Elizabeth, told Carol, “We will anxiously await your return.”
Carol replied, “Don’t wait anxiously.”
“Well, how should we wait? What’s the correct word?” Elizabeth wanted to know.
Several people jumped in with “Eagerly!”
Anxiously? Eagerly? What’s the difference? Was Elizabeth correct to use anxiously? Was Carol right to correct her?
According to many language experts, whether the adverb anxiously or eagerly is correct depends on the feeling you want to communicate in speech or writing. The same is true of the adjectives anxious and eager.
Anxious and anxiously convey a feeling of anxiety, stress, and worry:
- I am anxious about not being prepared for my interview.
- The child’s parents waited anxiously in the emergency room.
- He was anxious that his account balance had dropped so low.
Eager and eagerly do not convey anxiety. They communicate enthusiasm and desire:
- I am eager to meet my interview coach, who is supposed to be excellent.
- The children’s parents waited eagerly in the audience.
- He is eager to move into his newly decorated office.
Here is what style manuals and dictionaries say about anxious:
The Chicago Manual of Style: “Avoid it as a synonym for eager. The standard sense is ‘worried, distressed.’ ”
Garner’s Modern American Usage: “When no sense of uneasiness is attached to the situation, anxious isn’t the best word. In those instances, it displaces a word that might traditionally have been considered its opposite–namely, eager.” Garner classifies the evolving use of anxious for eager as Stage 4, which he defines as “The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots).”
The Gregg Reference Manual: “Both anxious and eager mean “desirous,” but anxious also implies fear or concern.
The American Heritage College Dictionary: “Anxious has a long history of use roughly as a synonym for eager, but many prefer that anxious be used only when its subject is worried or uneasy about the anticipated event.” The dictionary goes on to say that 52 percent of its Usage Panel members reject using anxious when the situation is without anxiety.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers as its third definition of anxious “ardently or earnestly wishing” as in “anxious to learn more.”
What is your view of the opening scene with my friends? Was Elizabeth correct when she said, “We will anxiously await your return”?
I eagerly await your comments.