Nauseous vs. Nauseated–Which Is She?

My dear friend just had major surgery in another city. Texting me to let me know how she is, her husband wrote, "She's nauseous a lot." 

But is she nauseous or nauseated? What do you think? 

Word sticklers distinguish between nauseous and nauseated. Because my friend was an English major in college and is now well known in the publishing world, I will tell you that she would describe herself as nauseated–not nauseous. 

Although many people use the words interchangeably, traditionalists see distinctions:

Nauseous is an adjective. It means "causing nausea" or "sickening."


A nauseous gas is escaping from the pipe.  

I could not bear the nauseous description of the torture. 

My friend is not sickening or causing anyone nausea; therefore, according to language purists, she is not nauseous. 


Nauseated is an adjective and a verb (nauseate, nauseated, etc.). It means "to feel or cause to feel nausea" and "to feel or cause to feel loathing or disgust." 


She is nauseated because of the medication. (This is my friend's condition. She is feeling nausea.)

His nauseating rant went on for 20 minutes. 

The constant curves on the mountain highway nauseate Victoria. 


Here's what The Chicago Manual of Style says about nauseous and nauseated:

Whatever is nauseous, traditionally speaking, induces a feeling of nausea–it makes us feel sick to our stomachs. To feel sick is to be nauseated. Although the use of nauseous to mean nauseated may be too common to be called an error anymore, strictly speaking it is poor usage. Because of the ambiguity in nauseous, the wisest course may be to stick to the participial adjectives nauseated [for my friend] and nauseating [for my friend's medication]. 

Garner's Modern English Usage puts it this way:

Nauseous (inducing nausea) for nauseated (experiencing nausea) is becoming so common that to call it an error is to exaggerate. Even so, careful writers tend to be sickened [nauseated?] by the slippage and to follow the traditional distinction in formal writing. That is, what is nauseous makes one feel nauseated.


Test yourself. In the sentences below, take the traditional approach when you fill in the blanks. 

  1. Kelly gets ____________ when she rides in the car for more than a few minutes. 
  2. The rampant sexual harassment in Hollywood still ______________ me.
  3. I am sorry that my friend is feeling _____________ since her surgery. 
  4. The drugs, although good for him, make him feel _______________. 
  5. The bad air ______________ Carroll, but it does not affect Imogen. 
  6. This  _______________ behavior must stop. 

Decide on your choices before looking at mine below. 








  1. Kelly gets nauseated–not nauseous. 
  2. The behavior nauseates me. 
  3. My friend is feeling nauseated–not nauseous.
  4. The drugs make him feel nauseated–not nauseous.
  5. The bad air nauseates Carroll. 
  6. This nauseous or nauseating behavior must stop. 


Check the title of this blog post to confirm your understanding. Is my friend nauseous or nauseated? 


Do you have any word pairs that confuse you or others? Please share them. 

Syntax Training



  1. Hi Lynn, I’m so glad you wrote about this because I heard the word “nauseous” the other day and it reminded me of this debate! I think your friend is nauseated according to the definition, and according to the context. She’s not causing any sickening, but she is feeling nausea. This was a great read.


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