I would like to know if there is any difference between mar and spoil. It does not seem to have any difference, but I would like to know which one is more used, which is more formal and informal, and if there is any connotation in each one.
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It is a question of degree. Dictionary.com defines mar
to damage or spoil to a certain extent.
Not all dictionaries bring out this distinction.
We might say
Although rain marred the picnic, the food was kept dry, umbrellas were distributed and everybody had a good time.
or we might say
Rain spoiled the picnic, the food became soggy, everybody was wet though and nobody enjoyed it at all.
In the first case the picnic was less pleasant because of the rain, but in the second case the picnic was ruined by it.
Aunty Helen's constant moaning marred the holiday, but we didn't let it spoil it.
We would have much preferred it if Aunty Helen hadn't moaned, but we managed to enjoy the holiday in spite of it.
When you mar something you usually leave a mark. That mark is what spoils it. On the other hand something can be spoiled with nary a mark upon it. Milk can spoil in just this way letting you ruin a whole bowl of cereal because you couldn't see that it was spoiled.
Mar is about how it was ruined. Spoil is about that it was ruined. When people use the words metaphorically this distinction can become muddled and less than obvious.
Here's the "dictionary service":
verb (used with object), marred, marring.
- to damage or spoil to a certain extent; render less perfect, attractive, useful, etc.; impair or spoil:
That billboard mars the view. The holiday was marred by bad weather.
- to disfigure, deface, or scar:
The scratch marred the table.
verb (used with object), spoiled or spoilt, spoiling.
- to damage severely or harm (something), especially with reference to its excellence, value, usefulness, etc.:
The water stain spoiled the painting. Drought spoiled the corn crop.
- to diminish or impair the quality of; affect detrimentally:
Bad weather spoiled their vacation.
- to impair, damage, or harm the character or nature of (someone) by unwise treatment, excessive indulgence, etc.:
to spoil a child by pampering him.
Archaic. to strip (persons, places, etc.) of goods, valuables, etc.; plunder; pillage; despoil.
Archaic. to take or seize by force.
verb (used without object), spoiled or spoilt, spoiling.
- to become bad, or unfit for use, as food or other perishable substances; become tainted or putrid:
Milk spoils if not refrigerated.
- to plunder, pillage, or rob.
Often, spoils. booty, loot, or plunder taken in war or robbery.
the act of plundering.
an object of plundering.
the emoluments and advantages of public office viewed as won by a victorious political party:
the spoils of office.
prizes won or treasures accumulated:
a child's spoils brought home from a party.
waste material, as that which is cast up in mining, excavating, quarrying, etc.
an imperfectly made object, damaged during the manufacturing process.
- be spoiling for, Informal. to be very eager for; be desirous of:
It was obvious that he was spoiling for a fight.
Hope I added a little bit more than what you would get from reading a dictionary.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (1984), which treats both words (along with harm, hurt, damage, and impair) under the general category injure, provides a useful description of how the two words differ in general use:
Mar implies the infliction of an injury that disfigures or maims or involves the loss of a thing's perfection or well-being [examples omitted]. Spoil [cross reference omitted] carries a stronger implication of ruin than mar and suggests the operation of something that not only induces the impairment o strength, vigor or value but also brings about their inevitable destruction [examples omitted].
Note that spoil is discussed here in the narrow sense of "damage beyond repair"—not in its other senses of "decay or rot" (like food that has been kept in storage too long) or "overindulge" (like a child or pet whose whims are treated with excessive deference).
The difference is that whereas something marred is usually still serviceable (albeit less than perfect), something spoiled is usually damaged/changed so as to be unserviceable.
Mar - to impair, in somewhat weakened sense; to detract from the perfection or completeness of (a thing).
Spoil - to affect injuriously or detrimentally, esp. to an irretrievable extent; to destroy or prevent the full exercise, development, or enjoyment of. (OED)