This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Search BBC
BBC World Service
BBC BBC News BBC Sport BBC Weather BBC World Service Worldservice languages
spacer gif
You are in: Learning English > Grammar and Vocabulary > Learn It!
Learning English
spacer gif
horrible and horrific; terrible and terrific

Charlie Qin studying English in Canada writes:

What's the difference between horrible and horrific?



Roger Woodham replies:


You can describe something as horrible (or deadful or awful) when you do not like it at all:

  • The hotel was horrible - just awful. The walls were all painted a horrible colour and I've never had such dreadful meals.


You would describe something as horrific when it is really upsetting or frightening to think about it or speak about it:

  • Having to survive in the desert for eight days with very little water and practically no shelter from the sun was horrific.
  • It was a horrific motorway accident: twelve people died, a further twenty four suffered horrendous burns.

horrendous - horrifying

Horrendous can mean horrifying, describing something you feel dismay or disgust about, but it can also be used in a less extreme way, meaning unpleasant or shocking.

Compare the following:

  • The traffic this morning was horrendous. It took me seventy-five minutes to travel eleven miles.
  • It was a horrifying picture: the dead and the wounded had all been left by the roadside.

Note that all of these adjectives with their various endings -ible, -ic, -ous, -ing, are derived from the noun horror which also crops up in the compound noun horror film:

  • Horror films on television are usually screened late at night.

terrible - terrifying - terrific

In a similar way, terrible and terrifying, which have similar shades of meaning to horrible and horrifying, are both derived from the noun terror from which we get the nouns terrorist and terrorism:

  • Ridding the world of terrorists and terrorism is easier said than done.

Be careful however with the adjective terrific which does not have the same meaning as horrific. Whereas horrific means very bad, terrific means very good.

Compare the following:

  • The food was terrible. Nobody at the camp had any idea about how to cook.
  • Everybody in the team was terrific. I had never seen them play so well together before.
  • Sharing a prison cell with a convicted murderer was a terrifying prospect.

horribly - terribly

These adverbs are used even more frequently than the adjectives terrible and horrible. They often mean little more than very.

Note how they are used in these examples:

  • It was terribly important not to make any mistakes on the certificate as it was going to be framed.
  • I'm terribly sorry. That was very clumsy of me to barge into you like that. Are you all right?
  • I was terribly upset when I heard that James had gone to Mexico without telling me.
  • I know that something is terribly / horribly wrong. They should be back by now.
  • They were horribly / terribly expensive, so I could only afford one, I'm afraid.
  • We're going to be horribly / terribly late if we stop to buy flowers on the way.
    Here are some more adjectives which are used informally and which mean very good and very bad. Note that they all have very common adjectival endings:

Very good:

fabulous tremendous marvellous stupendous
amazing breathtaking outstanding smashing
fantastic wonderful magnificent  

Very bad:

awful dreadful frightful
shocking revolting appalling
hideous monstrous  

Can you think of any others meaning very good or very bad, like superb or dire, which do not have these common adjectival suffixes? If you can, write to our Message Board and put them into sample sentences, e.g.

  • Their performance was dire. Most of the audience walked out long before it was over.
  • The dancers were superb. They had obviously spent a long time rehearsing it.
If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.
more questions

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us