Nauseous vs. Nauseated: Feel at Ease Using the Right Word

Does the smell of garbage make you feel nauseous or nauseated? These words seem interchangeable, but they actually have different usages and meanings. Find out how to choose between nauseous vs. nauseated, and which one describes that sick feeling in your stomach.

nauseous vs. nauseated comparison example nauseous vs. nauseated comparison example

Nauseous: Something That Causes Nausea

Have you ever said that a gross smell or illness is making you nauseous? According to the strictest grammarians, you've been using the word incorrectly. The adjective nauseous refers to "something that causes nausea." That means that the thing you're grossed out by is actually the nauseous item. For example:

  • That burned cheese smell is really nauseous.
  • I don't like hearing nauseous jokes about bathroom humor.
  • The sight of blood is very nauseous to me.
  • Our damp basement has a nauseous smell.
  • The taste of broccoli is extremely nauseous to Clint.

You can also use the word nauseating instead of nauseous. It correctly describes the thing that is causing you to feel disgusted — or, a nauseating thing makes you feel nauseated.

Nauseated: The Feeling of Nausea

If you want to describe that swirly, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the word you're looking for is nauseated. It's the participle version of the verb "to nauseate." Examples of nauseated in a sentence include:

  • Tina felt nauseated in the beginning of her pregnancy.
  • Even the slightest smell of onions makes my mom nauseated.
  • The kids were all nauseated after riding in the car for so long.
  • Do you feel nauseated when you see something disgusting?
  • I've been feeling nauseated after eating those old muffins.

Do these sentences sound awkward to you? That's because the word nauseous is more commonly used to describe a feeling of disgust or sickness. However, nauseated is technically the right way to describe that sick feeling.

Word Origin of Nauseous and Nauseated

Both nauseous and nauseated come from the word nausea, which means "stomach sickness or discomfort." But can you see the connection between the word nausea and nautical?

Nautical refers to sailors or ships on the ocean. Its Greek root, naûs, means "ship," and the Greek word nausíā means "seasickness." The word became nausea in Latin, and when added to the Latin suffix -ous, it becomes nauseous — "full of seasickness or stomach discomfort." Nauseate is the verb form of the word nausea — "to become sick."

Are Nauseous and Nauseated Interchangeable?

If you're not convinced that nauseated is the best way to describe "a feeling of sickness," you're not the only one. Modern usage has nauseous as the more common way to describe a gross or disgusted feeling. However, to grammar sticklers, using nauseous vs. nauseated interchangeably may result in confusion. For example:

  • The boy was nauseous after riding on the roller coaster. (Was he feeling sick, or was he so stinky that he caused others to be sick?)
  • Eating lots of garlic always makes me nauseous. (Does it make you feel like you're going to throw up, or does it make others feel that way when they smell you?)
  • Our dog was nauseous after being sprayed with a skunk. (Did he smell gross, or did he feel grossed out himself?)

As you can see, using nauseous to describe the feeling of stomach discomfort can lead to misunderstanding. Replacing it with nauseated can clear up any confusion, but if you'd still rather use nauseous, just use more descriptive verbs.

  • The boy felt nauseous after riding on the roller coaster.
  • Eating lots of garlic always makes me feel nauseous.
  • Our dog smelled nauseous after being sprayed with a skunk.

So are they interchangeable? Modern usage says yes, if the rest of the sentence makes sense. But don't be surprised if a strict teacher or editor asks that you change nauseous to nauseated to be more grammatically correct!


Grammar Doesn't Have to Be Nauseating

Does grammar make you feel a little sick to your stomach? Now that you know the difference between nauseated vs. nauseous, any grammar discomfort should clear up quickly! If you'd like to clarify more word pairs, take a look at the difference between desert vs. dessert. Or impress even the biggest grammar sticklers with your knowledge of enquire vs. inquire.