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 Aug 20 '16 at 3:10
  • 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 Jan 23 at 22:38

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.

  • 1
    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 Nov 29 '15 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.


Language is fluid.

This question is a matter of opinion.

My opinion is that the two words are very similar in their current usages; so similar that we can use them interchangably.

If some people make a distinction between them, that will be a their opinion. They may be able to cite examples to support their view.

I don't assert that my view is better (or worse) than that of others.

But it's my experience that they are pretty much synonymous.

Maybe I move in the wrong circles.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. It's often helpful to the reader to cite references that he or she could refer to. The OP probably doesn't know what to do next. – rajah9 Jan 26 at 12:22

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