What's the difference?

He is patronizing me.

He is condescending to me.

Almost the same meaning? Or a little bit different.

A friend of mine helped me get out of a difficult situation. Since then, he often says to me, "Don't forget my help", and "You should be grateful for my help." In this case, can I use the above two sentences interchangeably?

  • Note that condescension is not, by definition, ungracious. It simply suggests that the person has willingly lowered himself to your status level. If he's used to fancy food but he happily dines with your family on wieners and beans (because that's all you can afford) then he's condescending. (Of course, if he acts in a condescending manner then that's being ungracious, and he's patronizing you.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 3:10
  • 1
    In Roget's thesaurus each is shown as a synonym of the other. But if you look in a good dictionary you may discover the finely nuanced differences between them.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 22:38

4 Answers 4


You are right in that both have a similar meaning, with a small difference; being condescending has a greater emphasis on the superiority of the person.

For example, a friend explaining the meaning of a word to you in a good-natured way, when you feel they should have assumed that you know the meaning yourself would make you feel patronised.

If on the other hand a friend explained the meaning of a word to you, and added "I wouldn't expect someone on your level to know that anyway", that would be incredibly condescending.

In your particular case, condescending would be closest but I wouldn't actually use either word. I would go for something like ungracious, impolite or rude.

  • 3
    Good answer. I think in order to be condescending you do actually have to have some accepted higher status. Whereas it is possible, and frequently happens, that a junior can be (often unthinkingly) patronising to a superior. Condescend - show that one feels superior. Patronise - treat with an apparent kindness which betrays a feeling of superiority (Oxford Dictionary OnLine). My sense is that condescension is a slightly more deliberate expression of superiority, patronising something you are more likely to be by accident/inexperience/cack handedness.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 14:09

From the OED, complete with the weird Oxford spelling:

Patronizing: "That patronizes a person or thing, esp. with an air or assumption of superiority"

Condescending: "That condescends; characterized by, or showing, condescension. Now, usually, Making a show, or assuming the air, of condescension"

They both require an air of superiority, so it is difficult to take the degree of 'air of superiority' as the difference. Take a look at the verbs:

Patronize:"to act as a patron towards, to extend patronage to (a person, cause, etc.); to protect, support, favour, or encourage."

Condescend:"To come or bend down, so far as a particular action is concerned, from one's position of dignity or pride; to stoop voluntarily and graciously; to deign"

This is where the difference lies. If you tell the other guy his new 1,000cc hatchback is wonderful, and you nearly bought one yourself, while you have a Porsche parked in your garage - you are being condescending.

If you tell the other guy that you will help him to earn more money so he can buy a 2,000cc saloon car, because you know how difficult it is for him to get promoted, you are being patronising.


Your friend's behavior is neither condescending nor patronizing. He's shamelessly claiming moral dividends on his good deed. He's treating you as if you were indebted to him for life.

Having performed one good deed does not automatically grant a person the right to be an asshole, but some people think it kind of does. What's even more intriguing is the fact that some others claim that right without performing a good deed first, and, guess what, you'll find lots and lots of them in key positions in every blessed field of human activity.

  1. "Don't forget my help", and "You should be grateful for my help."

Above statements are neither patronizing or condescending statements. The first one is simply a reminder. The second is a bit of advice (chastisement ?).

It then actually depends on how your friend said these two statements to you, and how you felt when he said them. In this case it is the behavior or how they were delivered or how you felt when you received them that would count as to whether they were patronizing or condescending.

Patronizing behavior, attitude, or manner means basically talking to you as if you are a child.

Condescending behavior, attitude, or manner means talking to you like you are inferior or a subordinate, or below him.

Take note that the two statements you mentioned are not substantial enough to be described as patronizing or condescending statements. However there is the behavior of your friend when he said them to you that should be taken into account, and how you felt when he said these statements would decide whether your friend had a patronizing or condescending behavior, attitude, or manner.

  1. "A friend of mine helped me get out of a difficult situation" tells me that you admit that what he did was quite a big deal. I can only assume you are grateful to your friend for this. My apologies but I digress if only to state that whether your friend felt under-appreciated, that he would remind you about it if only to make you realize what he did for you. Your friend, judging from the fact that he keeps reminding you using the two statements you mentioned above, is then either a "score-keeper", or a history teacher ;) I can't think of anything worse to describe a friend who helped me out of a difficult situation ;)

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