Could you please tell the difference between toxic and poisonous with examples?

For example the smoke of the factories, cigars and the substance in the cans such as tuna fish which make us boil it before serving it. Which of them are toxic and which of them are poisonous?

Thank you so much

closed as off-topic by RaceYouAnytime, David, Kevin Workman, Hellion, Scott Sep 21 '17 at 3:24

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  • Have you compared dictionary definitions? The OED entry for toxic says "Origin Mid 17th century: from medieval Latin toxicus ‘poisoned’, from Latin toxicum ‘poison’, from Greek toxikon (pharmakon) ‘(poison for) arrows’, from toxon ‘bow’. – Weather Vane Sep 20 '17 at 19:37
  • @weather your link is not to the OED but to the ODO (Oxford online dictionary). The OED requires a subscription to access. – AmE speaker Sep 20 '17 at 19:52
  • I agree, however, that the OP can use the ODO to look up both words for the definitions and example sentences, thus this question should be closed due to lack of research. – AmE speaker Sep 20 '17 at 19:53
  • Yes I checked the dictionaries. But my examples which I have written are not in them and somehow I got confused. If there is a native person who can answer it simply that would be great – David Sep 20 '17 at 19:59
  • Somewhat similar: Is a snake's venom poisonous (or venomous)? – sumelic Sep 20 '17 at 20:01

In many cases, when referring to a substance that is harmful, the words can be used interchangeably. The definitions provided in most dictionaries include senses that overlap quite a bit. For example, the OED provides these definitions for each as the primary sense:

Toxic: 1. Of the nature of a poison; poisonous.

Poisonous: 1. Containing, or of the nature of, poison; having the properties of a poison; venomous.

So there are many cases where either word could be used.

The factory produced toxic gasses that were released into the atmosphere

means essentially the same thing as

The factory produced poisonous gasses that were released into the atmosphere.

In both cases, the implication is that the gasses could cause harm to humans or the environment.

But as with many synonyms, there are alternate senses for each word that don't work interchangeably, and slight variations in the way the words are used that make them subtly different.

For instance, consider "poisonous" used to mean "venomous."

Some snake bites are from nonpoisonous snakes, but 20-30% of the bites from poisonous snakes do not actually inject poison into the wound

One would not usually refer to a venomous organism as "toxic," but the word "poisonous" is used to mean venomous enough that it is included in the first sense of the word as defined in OED.

On the other hand, there are cases where the word "toxic" is used in extended figurative uses that would not be interchangeable with "poisonous."

Mike Cagney, chief executive of SoFi, was accused of contributing to a toxic workplace culture.

Here, "toxic" is being figuratively extended to mean that the workplace culture grew damaging and harmful to people involved, though not literally "poisonous."

  • Good answer. In the most technical sense a toxin is always a natural substance produced by a living organism. A poison may be natural or man-made. A venom is a toxin that's injected. But most uses of these terms are not that technical. – Jim Mack Sep 20 '17 at 20:38
  • Thank you Jim and specialy Race. I really appreciate your answers – David Sep 20 '17 at 23:05

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