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I just read that :

https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/strew-scatter.172228/

and it appears those two words are interchangeable, apart that strew is rather literate.

What do you think?

  • "Strew" implies "slinging" the stuff as it is being scattered. – Hot Licks Apr 17 at 20:15
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    Strewn connotes more of a mess than scattered. – Paul Apr 17 at 21:39
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While in many cases you can use either word, there are some quirks in usage. According to a Corpus of Contemporary American English search:

  • Scatter is more common than strew. (7796 hits versus 126 hits.)
  • One is more likely to strew flowers or to strew something along a path or a way
  • One is more likely to scatter ashes, light, or the pronoun them.

The Oxford English Dictionary confirms the associations between strew and plant material as well as surfaces:

a. transitive. To scatter, spread loosely; to scatter (rushes, straw, flowers, etc.) on the ground or floor, or over the surface of something; to sprinkle (something granulated or in powder) over a surface.

Note the use of scatter to define the term. The relevant meaning of scatter is very similar:

a. To throw or send forth so that the particles are distributed or spread about; to sow or throw (seed, money, etc.) broadcast; to sprinkle, strew; to diffuse (fragrance).

The difference in this subset of meanings is slight and isn't even about the method of delivery. It's more about the materials involved and the associations with them. Grammatically I wouldn't blink at scattering flowers or strewing ashes, but on a good day I might notice that the verb doesn't fit expected usage.


A final note: scatter can be used as an intransitive verb, referring to an action that the subject does to itself. Merriam-Webster on scatter, intransitive:

: to separate and go in various directions : disperse

When the weights hit the ground, the marbles scattered.

Strew has no such intransitive use. "The marbles strew" does not make sense.

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    And of course with human objects, there is a very important difference in meaning: if the troops were scattered on the field, they are running from the enemy – but if they’re strewn on the field, they’re already dead. This ties in with the fact that scatter is also intransitive, since scatter here is really a causative meaning ‘cause to scatter or spread out [agentively]’, which is not possible with strew, which has only a patientive meaning. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 17 at 20:48
  • hi ! what's the meaning of "the troops were scattered on the field"? i don't understand that sentence. I would rather say it means the troops are dispersed. – Marine Galantin Apr 17 at 20:58
  • @MarineGalantin - dispersed implies intent to distribute. scattered just implies randomness. – Jim Apr 17 at 22:05
  • But why would they retreat? Randomess has nothing to do with defeat – Marine Galantin Apr 17 at 22:06
  • @MarineGalantin - Normally the troops would be in an orderly arrangement on the field; Forming ranks or lines. When the enemy onslaught is too strong and they are undisciplined, they break ranks and scatter. – Jim Apr 20 at 3:44

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