I have a problem with the word "limp" and "hobble". I do not know which word is appropriately used when it comes to context because I do not know how the words differ from each other. Can we use them interchangeably? Do they have the same meaning? How do we differentiate the word "limp" from "hobble"?

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    Have you checked the dictionary? While related, they have different meanings. Share your research - what part don't you understand? – andy256 Apr 21 '14 at 2:50
  • I have. Here is what I found; limp: to walk slowly and with difficulty because of having an injured or painful leg or foot, while hobble: to walk in an awkward way, usually because the feet or legs are injured. Is hobble worse than limp? I am a non native speaker, so I find it a little bit confusing. Is it the injury that matters, or is there something else? I tried to google the images of limp and hoble, but it does not help. – user72645 Apr 21 '14 at 3:04
  • Limped around – Mari-Lou A Apr 21 '14 at 6:21
  • Awful quality, but the video shows what a limp most commonly looks like youtube.com/watch?v=8EzEGSn6HzM. – Mari-Lou A Apr 21 '14 at 6:58
  • Note also the meaning of the nouns a limp and a hobble. One is a characteristic walk (He walks with/has a limp) and the other is a device (The authorities attached an electronic hobble to him). Hobble has a causative sense 'to attach a hobble'; limp has no comparable causative. Limps are accidental for the most part, but hobbling can be from some outside agency, it appears. Not that limping can't, too, but that doesn't seem to be a relevant feature of limp. So, partial overlap, partial uniqueness, par for the course. – John Lawler Apr 21 '14 at 15:55

Limp means that you are favoring one leg. A person that limps puts most of their weight on one leg and kind of drags the other along.

A hobble is someone who is walking weird, struggling to walk (both legs bad), and often someone who is just really slow (often because of injury/handicap).

Edit: Mari-Lou has a point in the usage of hobble when a person hurts one ankle. This is common especially in sports. The use of hobble would be right because the person is not dragging the bad leg along, and they generally just look slower and like they may be injured in some way. Lots of athletes hobble around the field/court, if they are actually hurt bad enough that they need to limp then their playing is a bit more heroic.

  • You can hobble on one leg too, e.g. when you've strained or twisted your ankle. – Mari-Lou A Apr 21 '14 at 5:59
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    @Mari-LouA - you have somewhat of a point there. I read the first ten or so posts and they all pointed to someone who had already recovered from a bad ankle/leg or that had an injury/non-injury where they continued to play through it. When I twist an ankle playing basketball I wouldn't say I am limping. Because if I am dragging one leg around I would be useless on the floor. However I could be hobbling... but I am not sure if you would know which ankle was hurt. I would be slower and maybe running more gingerly but not overly favoring one leg over another. – RyeɃreḁd Apr 21 '14 at 6:13
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    When in doubt, look at the etymology (something I've learned while contributing here). Hobble comes from the word Hoblen, a Middle-English word associated for 'idiot' (or someone who is slow). Limp comes from the Middle-English word lympen, which means 'to fall short'. So, this answer seems to fit, even though saying that is probably politically incorrect (implying that hobble originated from a metal state might not sit well with some people). Of course, I haven't searched for evidence (which I can do if people want) and was just speculating as to the evolution of the usage. – Tucker Apr 21 '14 at 10:49
  • Added just for you @Mari-LouA. – RyeɃreḁd Apr 21 '14 at 14:55

The definitions you have quoted don't explain the difference.

A limp (see also) is an uneven movement, caused by a problem with a hip, leg or foot.

A hobble in this context is to walk with a handicap or injury.

They do overlap, but the limp is uneven.

There are other meanings for hobble shown in the link also. Notice that this answer uses three different sources. If one source isn't clear to you, look at others :-)


I think the difference is also one of degree. A limp is an uneven gait in which the compensation is largely limited to the legs, but the head and torso move approximately normally.

limp, v.intr : To walk lamely, to halt. Also with about, along, away. Occas. with cognate object. 1837 W. Irving Adventures Capt. Bonneville III. 259 His trail was followed for a long distance, which he must have limped alone. 1867 Dickens Let. 24 Jan. (1999) XI. 302 He limps about and does his work.

A hobble is more severe. The legs alone are unable to fully compensate and the entire body moves up and down to take the weight off of the injured leg.

hobble, v.intr: To walk with an unsteady rising and falling gait, as one whose limbs give way under him; to walk lamely and with difficulty 1666 London Gaz. 3 Sept., Many cripples were seen hobbling about not knowing which way to go. 1728 J. Morgan Compl. Hist. Algiers I. iv. 99 In stony ways the poor creatures [camels] hobble very much. 1781 F. Burney Lett. 15 May, I now hobble about the garden with a stick. 1871 L. Stephen Playground of Europe (1894) xiii, The..old gentleman..now hobbles about on rheumatic joints.

In the examples of a limp, the limper is but little impaired, going on for long distances and doing work without further characterization of the movement. Hobbles, however, are the movements of cripples, camels, rheumatics and those requiring sticks to aid their movements. This is born out by the other senses of both words. Hobbles have more exaggerated movements. Limps are mild impairments.

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