anxious vs. eager

Imagine looking at your Q4 analytics and finding that you not only met but surpassed your sales target. How would you feel? Would you feel anxious to tell your boss, Cindy, about the awesome results? Or would you feel eager? We know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute – don’t anxious vs. eager mean the same thing?”

Yes and no. In this post, we’ll tell you what you need to know about when to use anxious vs. eager.

What do anxious vs. eager mean?

Traditionally, anxious vs. eager mean different things:

Eager

This is the easier word to explain. So we’ll start with it.

Eager means wanting to do something or wanting something to happen. You would use it in sentences like these:

  • “I’m eager to tell Cindy about our awesome Q4 results.”
  • “Samara loves dessert, so she’s looking forward to seeing the dessert menu.”
  • “Tarik and Amy have been working long hours lately, so they’re eager to go on vacation to Greece.” (Wouldn’t that be nice right now?)

As you can see, eager is a word that you use when you’re talking about something positive.

Anxious

Traditionally, anxious means being worried or nervous about something. You would use it in sentences like these:

  • “I’m anxious to tell Cindy about our major Q4 loss.”
  • “Samara hates public speaking, so she’s anxious about the presentation she has to deliver tomorrow.”
  • “Tarik is anxious to tell his dad that he damaged the family car while driving on Sunday.”

So whereas eager is a word you would use to describe a positive feeling, anxious is a word you would traditionally use to describe something negative.

Some people use anxious vs. eager interchangeably

Although anxious vs. eager traditionally mean different things, many people use them interchangeably. Maybe you’re even one of these people. If you are, you may be wondering if using anxious and eager like this is wrong. Is it?

Well, it depends who you ask.

Some grammar experts and dictionaries still treat anxious vs. eager as separate words with distinct meanings. For example, the American Heritage Dictionary primarily defines anxious as something you feel when you’re worried or concerned. It notes that people are now more open to using anxious to describe a positive feeling, but not everyone is.

Other dictionaries, like the Collins Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries, start to blur the lines between anxious vs. eager. They define anxious as a word you can use when you want something to happen. However, if you look at the examples they provide to clarify their definition, you’ll notice something: they all focus on a desire to make sure something bad doesn’t happen. None of them describe a desire for something good to happen, which is what eager means.

And then there are some dictionaries, like the Merriam-Webster dictionary, that define anxious as really wanting something to happen. And that something can be a positive thing, not just something that will prevent a bad thing from happening.

As you can see, there’s no easy answer about whether you can use anxious vs. eager interchangeably.

How we recommend using anxious vs. eager

If you follow our posts, you’ll see a common theme in many of our recent ones: language changes over time. Just because a word was defined in a certain way before doesn’t mean it has the same definition now. And even at any given point in time, not everyone thinks of a particular word in the same way. Some people are really attached to a traditional definition of a word whereas other people aren’t.

So what should you do when it comes to using anxious vs. eager? Should you stick with the traditional definitions or feel free to use the words interchangeably?

Here at Inpression Editing, we like to be safe rather than sorry. So we recommend sticking with the traditional definitions of anxious vs. eager unless you know your readers won’t mind if you use them interchangeably. This way, you won’t risk losing your credibility with a grammar stickler.

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When you’ve had way too much cake to eat, do you feel nauseous or nauseated? Find out in our post on the difference between nauseous vs. nauseated.
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Do you feel anxious vs. eager? What’s the difference?
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2 thoughts on “Do you feel anxious vs. eager? What’s the difference?

  • May 2, 2017 at 12:51 am
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    In the sentence “well, it depends who you ask,” “who” should be “whom.”

    Reply
    • May 2, 2017 at 9:42 pm
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      Hi Natalie – That’s right. In formal writing, “whom” is the correct word. Our team primarily targets brands who are looking for help with creating compelling content (most of which tends to use more casual language). For this reason, we typically use and model more relaxed usage in our blog posts.

      Reply

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