English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is there any difference regarding the usage of detrimental and harmful? I am not a native English speaker, so I don't understand the different nuance of these words.

share|improve this question

The two words have very close meaning. I would say that “detrimental” sounds slightly more conditional than “harmful”, but it might only be because it is a less common word.

share|improve this answer
Is there any dictionary or thesaurus describes or defines subtle differences between synonyms? – czh Mar 8 '11 at 10:11

It seems to me that harmful can cover a far wider range of harm, whereas detrimental has connotations of a minor effect that decreases the efficiency of whatever it's been applied to without stopping it from working entirely.

share|improve this answer

Harmful means (basing on what the NOAD reports) "causing or likely to cause harm"; detrimental means "tending to cause harm".

Harmful should be used for something that effectively (or probably) causes harm, while detrimental should be used for something that frequently (or regularly) causes harm.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.