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What is the difference between these words, exactly? Both mean to stop existing or to become invisible.

vanish

He turned around and vanished into the house.

My glasses seem to have vanished.

All hopes of a peaceful settlement had now vanished.

disappear

The plane disappeared behind a cloud.

Her nervousness quickly disappeared once she was on stage.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Vanish has a sense of suddenness or mystery or finality about it that disappear lacks.

In your examples, I would use "disappeared into the house." instead of "vanished into the house." The other two "vanish" examples are fine.

I think if you were to change your next example to, "The plane vanished behind a cloud." it would imply that it was never seen again. Disappeared doesn't have that sense.

In your last example, you could say "Her nervousness vanished once she was on stage."

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Just to be sure, I get it right: "My glasses had disappeared but I found them." - "My glasses had vanished and I never found them." - "Where are my glasses? I just turned around for a moment and now they are vanished." --- And for the nervousness I could say: "Before my first time on stage I was nervous, but the nervousness vanished once I was on stage." - "Whenever I go on stage my nervousness disappears." (So in the former sentence I mean that I was nervous just one-time, in the latter sentence that I'm always nervous before I go on stage.) –  Em1 Mar 21 '12 at 12:55
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I would write your examples like this: "My glasses disappeared, but I found them." "My glasses vanished." (You don't need "and I never found them.") "Where are my glasses? I just turned around for a momement and they vanished." And I think your other sentences are fine as you wrote them. –  JLG Mar 21 '12 at 12:58

To vanish indicates:

to disappear suddenly and/or in a way that you cannot explain

and to disappear is less out of the ordinary.

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