What is the difference between long, yen, and crave, as verbs and nouns both?


Longing - a strong feeling of wanting something or someone
Craving - an extremely strong desire for something (listing Longing as a direct synonym)
Yen - a strong desire

They're used as:

  • Long to do something / for something or someone; Have a longing for someone, something/to do something

  • Crave something; have a craving for something

  • Yen for something, someone / to do something; have a yen for something, someone / to do something

Is seems to me craving is used mostly when you talk about food or something (or something immaterial, like attention). Both long and yen strike me as somewhat poetic.

What are the differences between them, which is used more often and in what contexts? Do any of them sound archaic / stilted / poetic?

  • 4
    For starters, I doubt I am he only one who had never heard of yen in this sense, and it is not strange. As Merriam-Webster notes: obsolete English argot yen-yen craving for opium, from Chin (Guangdong) yīn-yáhn, from yīn opium + yáhn craving. That also explains why almost all of Longman's examples for yen are illustrating the common meaning of the word.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 15:42
  • 4
    @oerkelens 'yen' meaning desire/urge/propensity is not obscure or rare. Which sense of 'yen' had you never heard before?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:02
  • 2
    A craving is for something that gives immediate gratification, such as a favourite food or an addictive drug, whereas a longing could be for something more remote such as seeing a loved one who is absent, or visiting a particular country. Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 9:53
  • @oerkelens I don't see that in M-W. The link you gave gives first the currency, then further down the page a definition about desire that does not mention 'obsolete'. Can you give a better link or quote in full? It is. It at all obsolete to me as a native speaker.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 12:47
  • @Mitch I stand corrected. I quoted exactly what I found, but I misread what I saw. It's yen-yen that is obsolete according to MW. I blame the weather I'm under for my hazy reading skills today (and yesterday)...
    – oerkelens
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 13:02

2 Answers 2



Craving is a strong or almost irrisistible desire for something that you feel you must have (but often can't or shouldn't have).

Craving is often experienced as 'a bodily desire', a desire that seems to come from a bodily need, rather than from a thought, volition, emotion, or wish.

As in:

  • 'She craved a cigarette but stifled the desire as she felt the professor would not approve'.


  • 'During pregnancy I craved onions constantly and ate them all the time.'

It can relate to sexual desire, or be an addiction - again, the desire is experienced as a 'bodily need'.


Longing is more an emotional desire. The wish for something, or for somebody that is not there. Longing is much more 'a wish' than 'a bodily need'. It is also not necessarily connected to the need for action, and can be vague and unfocused. Whereas craving is more likely to be fulfilled by action.

  • 'He longed to visit Istanbul again'
  • 'She longed for the time when they were together'.


Yen relates more to 'preference' and also, 'habit'. It describes a natural leaning, bent, or talent towards something, or a preference for something, which is often 'regular or done repeatedly'.

It also means 'being good at something'. It means you are 'In your groove' - doing something you have a natural talent for as in:

  • 'You really have a yen for sports!' - which means, 'you have a natural talent, leaning, or bent, for sports'.

  • 'She had a yen for polo mints and sucked on them constantly' (preference)

  • 'You have a yen for coming top of the class, don't you?' (natural talent, bent, leaning)

It may help to translate 'yen' as meaning 'having a liking for', I think that defines it rather well.

Yen - Definition 'a strong desire for something' it says here (though my own knowledge of the word is more 'desire' than "strong desire'. Ah dictionaries, these days 🙄 https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/yen


As verbs and nouns:

  • Longing - as you said before, mostly applied to person or people or even to do something or be somewhere
  • Craving - as you said before, mostly applied to objects or items, often associated with an addictive nature or behaviour
  • Yen - I don't hear this used much if at all, so I can't say much about this

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