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I have seen shameful and shameless being used interchangeably, but it is surprising that they would mean the same.

Is there a difference?

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closed as general reference by Alenanno, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, simchona, Thursagen, kiamlaluno Aug 12 '11 at 0:50

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I don't really understand these votes to close without a single reason being given. Having just searched a few dictionaries, I don't find any clarity regarding the distinction correctly made by @wfaulk. – FumbleFingers Aug 11 '11 at 17:35
Perhaps some people wanted to see examples where the two words seemed interchangeable. I imagine that they really weren't, but that the thing they referred to was unclear. – wfaulk Aug 11 '11 at 17:46
I voted to close as General Reference. You ask "is there a difference" between two words, and you're going to get dictionary definitions. – simchona Aug 11 '11 at 17:53
@FumbleFingers: I voted to close because the difference can be looked up in dictionaries. And not only there actually. But well, 5 votes are necessary for the closing to have effect so I think it's democratic enough: If people will find it not fit, the question will be closed, if yes, the question will stay. – Alenanno Aug 11 '11 at 17:56
@Alenanno,simchona: Thanks for responding. It's not really fair to compare paper dictionaries with online ones, since the former are always constrained by space. But I was surprised to find my Chambers doesn't even give the "chagrined" sense of "shameful". OP's "used interchangeably" issue therefore strikes me as raising a positively interesting point, rather than just being at best "tolerable". – FumbleFingers Aug 11 '11 at 20:13
up vote 3 down vote accepted

"Shameless" means pretty much what you'd expect: that someone should feel shame at something, but doesn't.

"Shameful" can have two meanings that almost seem like antonyms, but they're not, depending on whether it's applied to a person or an act. If it's applied to a person, it generally means that they feel remorse. If it's applied to an act, it means that whoever is performing the action should feel shame. However, it's often used to emphasize that the person should feel shame, but doesn't. In this latter sense, it can almost seem like "shameful" means the same thing as "shameless".

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+1 for that crucial point about shameful often being used of dishonourable actions where the perpetrator apparently does not feel ashamed, as would be proper. – FumbleFingers Aug 11 '11 at 17:38
Thank you very much. – HalfLess Aug 12 '11 at 14:34

The existing answer is largely valid, but just to add my British English perspective...

The words can often have similar meanings, but the contexts in which they are used are almost always slightly different. A crucial difference to note is that "shameless" implies that someone does not feel any shame (for an action), whereas "shameful" does not at all imply this; the person may or may not recognise the shame of their action.

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Thank you for the answer. – HalfLess Aug 13 '11 at 5:11

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