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What is the difference between the term cursed and accursed? I have read that accursed sounds more archaic, but I wonder if there is any slight difference in meaning.

I was surprised to learn of the existence of the word accursed when reading the alternative naming of the Albanian Alps, Accursed mountains. Fascinating, so I started wondering about other common usages of this word, and if it has any difference with cursed.

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    Pretty much as you think. There are lots of English words that have an intensive prefix but mean basically the same as without the prefix. Sometimes there are small differences like solve v resolve. Sometimes one becomes more common than the other (maze (verb) v amaze). Sometimes there's not much difference - accursed might be old-fashioned but so now is cursed.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 16 at 21:09
  • accursed is literary in today's speech.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 16 at 22:32
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    There is a slight difference, in that 'accursed' needs no qualification, but 'cursed' does. Being 'accursed' speaks for itself: you're in big trouble; never mind what trouble. Being 'cursed' more likely means 'cursed to…' which is to say you are condemned to do, or not to do, something specific. 'Midas was accursed…' tells us merely that he suffered. 'Midas was cursed to turn to gold all he touched…' tells us the nature of the curse. 'The Wandering Jew was accursed…' means what? 'The Wandering Jew was cursed to walk the Earth forever' tells us the nature of the curse. Commented Apr 17 at 20:45
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    You can also say "cursed by a witch" but not "accursed by a wiitch". "accursed" has essentially become an adjective, while "cursed" is a past participle.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 17 at 21:40
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    See: Accursed vs Cursed: Deciding Between Similar Terms thecontentauthority.com/blog/accursed-vs-cursed
    – user 66974
    Commented Apr 18 at 15:13

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It is true that dictionary definitions don't always clarify such differences. Take for example Collins:

If a person is accursed, they have been cursed. [literary]

However, ambiguous as it may seem, this short definition already points out two differences:

  1. As @Barmar wrote in a comment, accursed is often used as an adjective (and has survived in such names as The Accursed Mountains, that you mention, or The Accursed Lake, The Accursed City, etc.). Whereas cursed is used as the past participle of the verb to curse (See also this Ngram).

  2. Collins labels accursed as literary, even old fashioned. So if you use it, you show your intention to evoke a past epoch or use a more dramatic register of language.

Also, the same dictionary indicates a usage of accursed to describe things that deserve to be cursed:

Some people use accursed to describe something which they are very annoyed about.

And we need something a little better than this accursed nonsense about the survival of the fittest.

Note that Collins specifies that this meaning is used prenominally:

(prenominal)
hateful; detestable; execrable

But when you describe something as cursed, it means:

experiencing problems and unhappiness (HAVING BAD LUCK)

I think my car is cursed - it never starts when I need it. (Cambridge)

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