According to H. Stephens, "There is a great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem, and a concerned person solves a problem". But ODE seems to be disagreeing with him:

  • WORRIED: Anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems
  • CONCERNED: Worried, troubled, or anxious

So, do native speakers recognize the difference between worried and concerned Stephens talks about?

  • See definition 2 at merriam-webster.com/dictionary/concerned – Frank Aug 2 '14 at 10:06
  • 4
    Stephens is right, of course. Do not read Stephens (or anyone) out of context. Dictionary entries are "context-free." :) HTH. – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 10:48
  • 2
    The different between worry and concern is amply clear with Stephens' elaboration. – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 10:49
  • 1
    Dictionaries tend toward denotative definitions, not connotative ones. Many native speakers would see shades of difference, but the overlap in usage is significant. – bib Aug 2 '14 at 16:00
  • meanings are vague

  • there are no exact synonyms

  • synonyms overlap to varying degrees

  • 'worry' is closer to inactionable concern

  • 'concern' is closer to actionable worry (but I disagree with Stephens; I don't think it is at all implying that a solution to a problem is being found.

  • lots of statements about the nuances of words tend to overstate (push to a specific context, create a hyponym) or understate (create a hypernym), either by confirmation bias or misunderstanding respectively.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Worryingly clear. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 13:47
  • 1
    +1 And Hi-Five! "worry' is closer to inactionable concern; 'concern' is closer to actionable worry" you got that right there. Except that you obviously mean a concern leading to inaction, there's not much logic in "inactionable concern" and it could accidentally imply 'a concern that no one can change (acted upon).' – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 15:19

Unless he is very clear (in context OP does not provide) to point out which senses of the words he is restricting his discussion to, Stephens is wrong in that he is not acknowledging the wide range of shades of meaning associated with each of these two words. They are synonyms (ie the ranges of their accepted meanings overlap). Though most people would agree that the 'centre of gravity' of the 'worried' range lies markedly closer to the 'anxious' side of the continuum, and that of 'concerned' somewhat closer to the 'not willing to turn a blind eye to' side.

The ODE definition is inadequate in that it implies that worry/trouble/anxiety must accompany concern; zeal to right a wrong / help sufferers may be the controlling factor.

The correct way to sort out the semantics here is to try to pinpoint the sense intended (enervating / debilitating / crippling worry; compelling concern) though then immediacy is lost. Perhaps pragmatics make the original preferable, but one has then to point out the at least partly subjective usage to be fair to understandably puzzled readers such as OP.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Stephens wasn't being wrong, after all. See also my comment at OP. – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 10:48
  • 1
    @Kris Unless you give the context or access to it, it would be hard to comment. If he defines terms differently from standard dictionary definitions, that's his prerogative, but I'm sure most people would say that he has less authority than most dictionaries. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 11:10
  • 1
    "Unless you give the context or access to it," is what I say, too. – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 15:16

If someone is concerned they're really just worried, but they don't want to sound like a worry wart, which makes them a lying toad.

| improve this answer | |

The following sources seem to confirm H. Stephens distinction between the meaning of the two terms:


syn: concern, care, worry connote an uneasy and burdened state of mind.:

  • concern implies an anxious sense of interest in or responsibility for something: concern over a friend's misfortune. Care suggests a heaviness of spirit caused by dread, or by the constant pressure of burdensome demands: Poverty weighed them down with care. Worry is a state of agitated uneasiness and restless apprehension: distracted by worry over investments.

Source:Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary.

Worry word history :

  • Worrying may shorten one's life, but not as quickly as it once did. The ancestor of our word, Old English wyrgan, meant "to strangle." Its Middle English descendant, worien, kept this sense and developed the new sense "to grasp by the throat with the teeth and lacerate" or "to kill or injure by biting and shaking." This is the way wolves or dogs might attack sheep, for example. In the 16th century worry began to be used in the sense "to harass, as by rough treatment or attack," or "to assault verbally," and in the 17th century the word took on the sense "to bother, distress, or persecute." It was a small step from this sense to the main modern senses "to cause to feel anxious or distressed" and "to feel troubled or uneasy," first recorded in the 19th century.

Source:The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    How on earth does concern: syn: ... worry 'seem to confirm H. Stephens distinction between the meaning of the two terms'? And why not say 'The following source seems to refute H. Stephens' distinction between the meaning of the two terms:'? concern: v tr 4. To cause anxiety or uneasiness in [AHD at the above link] – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 12:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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