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When talking about something ‘experienced in one's mind and not expressed or shown to other people’, which adjective do you tends to use? Inner or Internal?

Do you see any difference between these two adjectives in this case?


To let the difference shining brightly, could you please tell us how each of the adjectives change the meaning of each sentence?

The following are examples of inner/internal + nouns (thoughts, feelings,doubts, struggle, tensions, conflicts, peace, voice, life, beauty).

  1. She didn't want to be left alone with her dark inner/internal thoughts.
  2. And they appreciate therapy, even though they are in businesses that traditionally scorned sharing inner/internal feelings.
  3. Inner/Internal doubts can be managed, but external criticism in the social-media age is not so easy to curtail.
  4. Broadman’s face looked as though some vast inner/internal struggle was going on.
  5. Michael needed to express his inner/internal tensions.
  6. She struggled with her own inner/internal conflicts.
  7. Sarah seemed to have a profound sense of inner/internal peace.
  8. An inner/internal voice told him that what he was doing was wrong.
  9. A character who makes us wish to know more about his inner/internal life.
  10. Mary might not be the prettiest girl around, but her inner/internal beauty shines through.
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    "Inner" should be understood as "personal"; internal is better understood as a physical place and usually only used literally. Compare "There is damage to the inner organs." is wrong, but "There is damage to the internal organs." is correct. "His internal thought was that he should not go." is wrong, but His inner thought was that he should not go." is correct. (I don't think we can do all your homework.) ;)
    – Greybeard
    Mar 29 '20 at 10:29
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    ... But it is not as clear cut as this. Both 'Broadman’s face looked as though some vast inner struggle was going on' and 'Broadman’s face looked as though some vast internal struggle was going on' are acceptable. However, @Greybeard's rule of thumb is a good one. With the usual proviso about 'rules' in English. Mar 29 '20 at 11:17
  • Sorry about the long list, I didn't mean so, I just wanna give some more examples to make the differentiating clearer. @Greybeard , so I guess 'inner' is safe to choose when it comes to something inside a person (like thoughts, emotions, doubts, voice, beauty, peace, struggle, etc.), while 'internal' tends to go with something related to our PHYSICAL body (like organs, injuries, etc.). Correct me if I'm wrong.
    – Pith
    Mar 29 '20 at 12:05
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All thoughts are internal in that they are not apparent to an external observer. In the same fashion, all emotions are internal. Even if there are visible manifestations, an external observer can't infallibly say, "Oh, you must be sad: I see tears." (To the contrary: they could be tears of joy; or the observed could have just peeled an onion.)

Consider the first sentence,

She didn't want to be left alone with her dark inner/internal thoughts.

It could be argued that all of her thoughts are internal thoughts. No one can observe her inner monologue when she thinks, "I'm going to eat a pan of brownies to smother my anger at my mother."

She could have casual thoughts that she has revealed to a friend, saying, "I love fudge brownies." This thought can only be observed through actions (here a speech action). Until it may be observed, her thought is internal.

If she has dark thoughts about her mother, these inner thoughts are what she would not like to be left alone with.

For the last sentence,

Mary might not be the prettiest girl around, but her inner/internal beauty shines through.

One could argue that inner beauty is a better choice. Despite the proverb, "Beauty is only skin deep," beauty that is internal is not observable, except by a surgeon. (And the surgeon would probably not say, "Mary has quite a beautiful duodenum.")

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  • Thanks to your help, I finally find out that the difference between the INNER and INTERNAL is so obvious: Inner feelings, thoughts or something else are ones that you 'do not show or tell other people', while Interal is just used to show something 'inside a person's mind'. In the first place, I overthought their meanings so I got a bit confused!
    – Pith
    Apr 3 '20 at 3:10

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