8

Both are adjectives;

Sensual:

"Connected with your physical feelings; giving pleasure to your physical senses." (OALD) the origin is from Latin sensulis, from sensus 'faculty of feeling, thought, meaning', from sentire 'feel'.

Sensuous:

"Giving pleasure to your senses." (OALD) the origin is from Latin sensus 'sense'+ous.

Here are two examples:

"The sensual feel of a velvet shirt against the skin."(Merriam Webster)

"The sensuous feeling of silk on her skin." (Longman Dictionary)

I wonder if "sensual" and "sensuous" can be interchangeable or there is a subtle difference.

  • I am eagerly waiting for an answer that can at least satisfy my curiosity. Because I know there must be differences and similarities but since I've looked them up in every dictionary, there are examples and even definitions that they are apparently contradictory. – haha Dec 11 '15 at 23:10
  • No dictionary or examples will be able to resolve the overlap perfectly. They're very similar words whose slight difference is mostly cultural. – Hapaxes Dec 12 '15 at 21:47
5

The terms technically resemble each other, but in my experience, "sensuous" is a less excitable term and refers to information taken in through the senses; whereas "sensual" is more provocative, even suggestive. The latter would be more pleasurable as a rule. Here's a note from my computer dictionary (New Oxford American):

usage: The words sensual and sensuous are frequently used interchangeably to mean ‘gratifying the senses,’ especially in a sexual sense. Strictly speaking, this goes against a traditional distinction, by which sensuous is a more neutral term, meaning ‘relating to the senses rather than the intellect’ ( swimming is a beautiful, sensuous experience), while sensual relates to gratification of the senses, especially sexually ( a sensual massage). In fact, the word sensuous is thought to have been invented by John Milton (1641) in a deliberate attempt to avoid the sexual overtones of sensual. In practice, the connotations are such that it is difficult to use sensuous in Milton's sense. While traditionalists struggle to maintain a distinction, the evidence suggests that the neutral use of sensuous is rare in modern English. If a neutral use is intended, it is advisable to use alternative wording.

Perhaps, "Our day at the spa was exceedingly sensuous" vs "Her whisper in my ear was so sensual I could hardly take a breath."

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