adjectives - What's the difference between "lonely" and "lonesome"

  • Urbycoz

    Both words seem to be used interchangeably. E.g.,

    • I'm feeling lonely tonight.
    • I'm feeling lonesome tonight.

    I guess I always felt "lonesome" was somehow more severe and heart-wrenching, but is there any real basis for that interpretation?

    It looks from google n-grams that like both have coexisted for some time.

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  • Answers
  • Andrew Leach

    I don't believe there is a difference, apart from lonesome being mainly AmE. Lonely appears to be slightly earlier than lonesome, but both first appeared around the time of the Pilgrim Fathers and I suspect that usage separated with the dialects.

  • ghoppe

    There is one sense of lonesome that is unique--lonesome as short for 'lonesome self' in the fixed phrases "on your lonesome" and "by your lonesome," meaning alone.

    E.g., "Now why are you sitting there, all by your lonesome? Come on over here."

  • VarunAgrawal

    Lonely and Lonesome are synonymous.

    But generally, lonely is meant to mean lack of companionship and personification of that lack (e.g. Houses cannot be lonely unless it is personified), whereas lonesome signifies something desolate, secluded or solitary like a lonesome house.

  • Kevin Lewis

    Take "lonesome" seriously -- it differs culturally, linguistically, "conceptually" from our depressive "lonely," owned as it is by the shrinks. It's a feeling-perception, open-ended, resistant to individual, particular (dictionary) definitions. It so invites reflective, concentrated exploration, as in the only-one-so-far, easy-to-read study of its American usage, LONESOME: The Spiritual Meanings of American Solitude (2009, IBTauris/Palgrave). Americanists, take note and join the discussion. (This contributed by its author.)

  • Related Question

    word choice - What's the difference between “reliable” and “dependable”?
  • Agos

    Do the adjectives “reliable” and “dependable” have the same exact meaning?
    If not, what is the difference and when is best to use each of them?

  • Related Answers
  • waiwai933

    The OED gives the following definitions of reliable and dependable:

    Reliable—1. That may be relied on.

    1a. Of a person, information, etc.: able to be trusted; in which reliance or confidence may be placed; trustworthy, safe, sure.

    1b. orig. U.S. Of a product, service, etc.: consistently good in quality or performance; dependable.

    Dependable—That may be depended on; trustworthy, reliable.

    Both definitions list the other word in their definitions, with no special qualifiers attached. In addition, both words use the word trustworthy, also without qualifiers. Therefore, it is safe to say that the two are synonyms and may be equally used.

  • Dour High Arch

    Obviously "reliable" means "can be relied upon" and "dependable" means "can be depended upon", but both my Webster's and etymological dictionary give near-identical usages, even using the other as synonyms.

    Google Ngram viewer shows "reliable" as far more common than "dependable".

  • RegDwigнt

    Reliable and dependable are interchangeable when they refer to things (i.e. a clock), or to oneself vis-a-vis someone else. However, there is a nuance when the terms apply to someone else vis-a-vis oneself. In this case reliable implies a decision to commit oneself to another and to acept the consequences in the event of failure. With dependable, the commitment is not a free choice. (Source: The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language, International Edition, McGraw Hill.)