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As a non-native speaker who grew up in an area without dangerous animals, I find myself confused by the distinctions between these words:

  • vicious
  • rapacious
  • ferocious - example
  • voracious

In the example I found, the narrator describes the struggle of the fox as "ferocious", which helped clarify the concept. It's hard though to keep searching for illustrative videos hoping to hear one of these words. How can I put a face (so to speak) to these concepts, from the animal world? (I'm familiar with the figurative sense of "voracious reader" but I think (hope) the other adjectives apply less to the human species.)

  • Do they bite you (vicious, ferocious), or eat you (rapacious, voracious)? – Tinfoil Hat May 21 at 2:47
  • Rapacious creatures grasp their prey (think "raptor"). Pugnacious ones are willing to put up a fight. Tenacious ones cling onto it firmly. Pernicious ones destroy it violently. Voracious ones devour it greedily (think "carnivore"). – Rosie F May 21 at 6:16
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Even for a native speaker, there is quite a large overlap in the meaning of these words. I cannot blame you for having trouble discerning the difference because whether to use one or the other is mainly a choice of style rather than definition. Of the four words, I would split them into two groups of synonyms: voracious and rapacious; and ferocious and vicious.

I will give you my personal connotations for these words, but keep in mind that there is minimal distinction between them.

  • Voracious - closest synonym is insatiable. This word is almost always used as an adjective in conjunction with the word appetite.
  • Rapacious - closest synonym is greedy; a word not used in common parlance. I would expect to see this word used only in literature and journalism.
  • Ferocious - closest synonym is fierce. It is often (though not always) used as an adjective to describe nature (i.e. a ferocious animal or a ferocious storm).
  • Vicious - closest synonym is cruel. Usually refers to the actions of a person.

Again, keep in mind that this is my own personal perception of the most common usage, not the sole usage. The usage of these words will differ from author to author.

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  • Helpful sources you could use here include dictionaries, for definitions and synonyms, and Google Ngrams, for the frequency of usage of particular words or expressions. – Isabel Archer May 21 at 11:00
  • @IsabelArcher: for me, I feel videos of animals exhibiting these behaviors would be more illustrative? For example, voracious. – Dan Dascalescu May 23 at 23:02

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