Are these words totally interchangeable?

I made the [erroneous/wrong] decision.

  • I imagine that "wrong" in this context is in the sense of "incorrect" rather than "morally indefensible". – Cyberherbalist Jun 28 '13 at 20:45
  • @Cyberherbalist & others: "Wrong" does not necessarily imply "moral" or "ethical". You dialed the wrong number there. – Kris Jul 8 '13 at 6:46

'Erroneous' is typically used when you're talking about fact-based issues. It means incorrect or mistaken.

He made the erroneous assumption that the world was flat.

'Wrong' can be used in those situations too:

He's wrong about how much water will fit in that cup.

But it has broader meaning to include things that are morally or ethically wrong, unfair, or unjust.

Shoplifting is the wrong thing to do.

| improve this answer | |
  • thank you for your answer. do you use the word "erroneous" in a common conversation? – Daiki Jun 28 '13 at 18:19
  • Also, only wrong is normally used the thing being referenced is an actual physical object or action, as opposed to an abstract concept such as a assumption, decision, choice. So you can only ever go through the wrong door (not the erroneous door). But "word" is a somewhat slippery word, so you can (just about) use an erroneous word. Normally though, it would be the wrong word (just don't ask me why the indefinite/definite articles have to be switched around in the case of inappropriate/incorrect words! :) – FumbleFingers Jun 28 '13 at 18:25
  • I can't remember the last time I used it at all in a common conversation. I've used "wrong" lots of times, however. – Cyberherbalist Jun 28 '13 at 18:27
  • @FumbleFingers I think there's a word missing in your first line: "only used", "used when"?? I can't work out whether you're saying wrong is or is not used with abstract concepts, but I think you can refer to a wrong or erroneous assumption. – TrevorD Jun 28 '13 at 18:35
  • 2
    @Daiki, I certainly use erroneous in conversation when the context is mathematical, scientific, or statistics. This doesn't have to be in a technical conversation; say, The Romney campaign's reliance on low minority voter turnout was erroneous. In this sentence, indeed, wrong would be ambiguous: whether it was morally reprehensible, refuted by events, or both. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 30 '13 at 18:50

They are not interchangeable. Here's an example:

I reviewed the erroneous article.

I reviewed the article; it contained an error.

I reviewed the wrong article.

I was not supposed to review that article at all, but a different one.

| improve this answer | |

A number of dictionary definitions emphasise that the word "erroneous" is derived from the word "error":

containing or characterized by error : mistaken <erroneous assumptions>

Definition: mistaken, incorrect, or containing an error
Tips: Erroneous is related to the word error. Both words are derived from the Latin errare, “to wander, miss." If someone or something wanders off course, in error, it is erroneous. In business, you may garner more respect referring to an "erroneous transaction," than to a "mistake" or "mess-up." Usage Examples:
The erroneous assumption by the marketing manager cost the company thousands of dollars. (mistaken, false)
My erroneous planning is to blame for our missed deadline. (incorrect, false)
Generally, newspapers will retract and apologize for erroneous headlines and statements. (incorrect, mistaken)
His erroneous statements caused me a lot of trouble and time proving that he was mistaken. (incorrect, false)

containing or based on error; incorrect; mistaken.
The police acted on an erroneous assumption that the killer was a male.
The scientists made an erroneous interpretation of their findings. (http://www.wordsmyth.net/?ent=erroneous)

I think this helps to differentiate between erroneous and wrong to some extent:

erroneous clearly relates to an error, mistake, or inaccuracy.
Typical antonyms are: correct, accurate.

wrong can carry the same meaning, but also has the meaning as the antonym of right, as in the [morally] right or wrong behaviour.

| improve this answer | |
  • Good work, @TrevorD, I like your answer. +1 – Cyberherbalist Jun 29 '13 at 0:09

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