Take the 2-minute tour ×
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.

I ran across the verb "sway" a little while ago and I was wondering about its usage. See:

They were seduced by the low cost of the house.


They were swayed by the low cost of the house.

Both are correct, right? But in this context, which one fits better? Perhaps either? If so, then what's the difference? I understand its meaning, in this specific case, as something similar to "influence" – am I wrong to think this way?

Now, see the following scenario:

I was seduced by her lips.


I was swayed by her lips.

In this case, do "seduced" and "swayed" express the same thing?

share|improve this question
"Seduced" has a strong sexual connotation that "swayed" doesn't (especially when you use them alone). Also, you "ran across" (rather than "met") the word "sway." –  emodendroket Jun 20 '14 at 17:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The two words can overlap, but fundamentally they are different.

The relevant meanings, from the OED are:

seduce, 2. In wider sense: To lead (a person) astray in conduct or belief; to draw away from the right or intended course of action to or into a wrong one; to tempt, entice, or beguile to do something wrong, foolish, or unintended.

sway, 12. trans. To cause (a person, his actions, conduct, or thoughts) to be directed one way or another; to have weight or influence with (a person) in his decisions, etc.

So, they were swayed by the low cost of the house simply says that the cost was the factor (or the main factor) which led them to reach their decision, with an implication that they were leaning towards a different choice. They were seduced by the low cost of the house implies not just that the cost changed their minds, but that it led them to make a bad choice in some sense: dishonest, or disloyal, or not keeping their word, or perhaps just not in their own best interests.

In your second pair of sentences, where there is no particular choice implied, seduce implies a physical (and probably sexual) surrender, while sway does not really make sense: I would take it to mean that there was some specific choice which hadn't been mentioned.

share|improve this answer
Good answer, Colin! Thank you. But you told "seduced" could led people to a bad choice in some sense: dishonest, disloyal, etc. So, is this a pattern? And for about the sexual context where "sway" doesn't fit, then can I discard that possibility totally? I mean, sway in the sexual path is, at all, wrong? Should I go with "seduced" to ensure cohesion? –  Guilherme Oderdenge Jun 20 '14 at 13:38
I might also add that sway may mean something along the lines of "caused to waver" which is recoverable. Seduced implies success - you were caused to actually do something, whereas sway does not always, in my mind, mean that you do. So @GuilhermeOderdenge's second example could still be used, though the implications are somewhat different. This seems in line with the quoted dictionary entry, which only mentions influence. –  Magus Jun 20 '14 at 14:59
Great answer, not sure if I can make my answer better without duplicating this. @GuilhermeOderdenge you can use sway correctly here, if there was some inner turmoil (should I?, shouldn't I?) and her lips were the factor that swayed your final decision to kiss her. –  Dom Jun 20 '14 at 15:03
"Sway" needs something to sway against: for example, you could say "He had promised himself he wouldn't kiss her again - but he was swayed by her lips". I don't think seduced necessarily implies dishonest or bad decisions, but it does imply that all other factors were forgotten (which usually means the same thing!). Being swayed implies the balance of pros and cons being tipped towards doing X, while being seduced implies forgetting the pros and cons completely, and just doing X regardless. –  user568458 Jun 20 '14 at 17:13
I'm guessing definition 1, which was skipped, was the sexual one, which seems important to me. Without anything else, "He was swayed" and "He was seduced" mean something very different. –  emodendroket Jun 20 '14 at 17:46

As a quick estimation of the difference:

Seduced implies that it appealed to your sensibilities, and attracted you.

Swayed implies that it made you choose one option when it could've gone either way, usually between two (yes/no).

I'll try to improve this soon but I'm busy now.

share|improve this answer
Then "I was swayed by her lips" is wrong? –  Guilherme Oderdenge Jun 20 '14 at 13:24
No, in that sense I get the impression her lips were the final reason in a series of reasons (for and against) which made you choose to kiss her. Whereas being seduced by her lips could mean that her lips alone were sufficient to attract you. –  Dom Jun 20 '14 at 13:27

I would say seduced involves temptation or attraction, getting suckered into something. Sway also asserts a method of control or influence, but not that one that specifically swings temptation as its sword.

I think seduction is a means of swaying someone using temptation, but I must add that I am uncertain about the quality of this answer.

EDIT: Colin's answer is more fitting to your question; I recommend flagging that as the answer. (Good explanation!)

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.