A question from Dung Hoang Kim:
Dung: Hi, Alex, good morning!
Alex: Good morning, how are you today?
Dung: Thank you very much. I'm fine, thank you. Alex, I was wondering if you could tell me the difference between 'horrible' and 'horrific'.
Dung: - Because I think 'horrific' has a stronger meaning than 'horrible', but I'm not so sure.
Alex: Yes, I'll certainly tell you a little bit about this. You asked a question about 'horrible' and 'horrific', and you also wanted to know about 'terrible' and 'terrific'. Is that right?
Dung: Yes, that's right.
Horrible/Horrific and Terrible/Terrific
Alex Gooch answers:
Okay, so you're right: this is a particularly tricky question, and I can understand to reasons why you ask it. The words you spoke about are all adjectives - these four words horrible, horrific, terrible, terrific - they're all adjectives, and as you know, often, English adjectives go in pairs or groups, and we can find patterns in their meanings.
So, for example, we have:
bored and boring
interested and interesting
The words that you asked about, they look as though - they look like they followed some kind of pattern like this, but in fact, I'm afraid they don't.
'Horrible' and 'horrific' are both related to the noun 'horror'...
'Horror' means strong fear, or shock, or repulsion. So, if we say that something is 'horrific', that means that it makes us feel horror. We might talk about "a horrific war" for example, or "a horrific illness".
'Horrible' can mean the same as 'horrific' in fact, or it has a different meaning also. It can also mean unpleasant or disgusting - so we could talk about "a horrible traffic accident", or we might say something like,"Ugh! This coffee is horrible!"
And to answer your question about which word is stronger, horrific is stronger generally - if we talk about "a horrific war", that's stronger than "a horrible war".
On the other hand, it's also important to remember that 'horrible' is more often used in normal everyday spoken English. 'Horrific' is a slightly more formal word. You can expect to read it in newspapers or books, but it's less commonly used in conversation.
And then, 'terrible' and 'terrific'....
You might think that these are connected to terror in the same way that 'horrible' and 'horrific' are connected to horror, but in fact in modern English this isn't true - I'm afraid they're not.
So you can use 'terrible' in several different ways:
'Terrible' has both the meanings of 'horrible', so we can talk about:
"A terrible accident" or
"A terrible cup of coffee".
We can also use it - excuse me - with very general meaning, meaning just very bad. So you could say:
"This movie is terrible" or
"This actor is terrible".
On the other hand, 'terrific' is most often used to mean 'very good', so:
"This homework is terrific" and that's the opposite of
"This homework is terrible".
'Terrific' can also mean 'very strong' or 'very intense', so we can talk about 'terrific speed' - you could say:
"The car is travelling at terrific speed."
So, I'm afraid there is no very clear pattern in the meanings of these four words. The best way to understand them I think, is to think about them separately - as four separate words with separate meanings. I can't give you any more clear rule than that to help you understand them I'm afraid, but does that help - does that make sense?
Dung: Oh, that's helped very much, thank you!
Alex Gooch has been an English teacher for ten years. He has taught in Poland and Switzerland, and more recently he's been teaching in various universities in the UK.
Audio - Download the answer (mp3 - 1.1 mb)
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