Nauseous Vs. Nauseated

Unclear English language rules are enough to make me nauseous! Or is it nauseated? Recently, the ESL Library team has been hard at work revamping our Everyday Dialogues section. We’re reformatting all of our lessons, and we’re eventually adding audio, too! While I was editing two of the lessons, Going to the Doctor and Going to the Pharmacy, I came across differing vocabulary terms. The first lesson used nauseous while the second used nauseated. I grew up (on the West Coast of Canada) saying nauseous, but I know from experience that it’s a good idea to check on the rules and usage in other English-speaking areas. What did I discover about nauseous and nauseated?

Controversy & Evidence

In the 20th century, some people started insisting that nauseous meant “to cause nausea” while nauseated meant “to feel/be affected by nausea.” (E.g., we should say “The nauseous odor made me feel nauseated.”) However, the Oxford English Dictionary has listed three definitions of nauseous since the 17th century, and one of those meanings is “to feel/be affected by nausea.”

Nowadays, when using linking verbs like be, feel, seem, and appear, most dictionaries agree that both nauseous and nauseated can be used to describe that queasy-stomach feeling.

  • A day later I became nauseous, was vomiting, and I started bumping into the wall—I couldn’t walk straight. —Oxford Dictionaries (online)
  • We had headaches from the smell, and I was so nauseated the last night that I couldn’t even eat my dinner. —Oxford Dictionaries (online)
  • I began to feel nauseous. —Merriam-Webster (online)
  • He was feeling weak and nauseated. —Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary (online)

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage takes a strong stance for the use of nauseous to mean feeling sick to your stomach: “Any handbook that tells you that nauseous cannot mean “nauseated” is out of touch with the contemporary language. In current use it seldom means anything else.”


Tell your students that both nauseous and nauseated can be used to describe when a person feels like vomiting. The good news is they can’t go wrong! That should make them feel better…


To see nauseous in context, try the Going to the Doctor lesson in our Everyday Dialogues section. In a few weeks, Going to the Pharmacy will include this term as well.



Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Barry McCarthy says:

    May 25, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    I noted a mistake in the below explanation as in ‘the’…last night…The placement of the word ‘the’ is incorrect, needs to be deleted,
    Teacher Baz

    We had headaches from the smell, and I was so nauseated the last night that I couldn’t even eat my dinner. —Oxford Dictionaries (online)

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 28, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Barry,

      Thanks for your comment. However, Oxford Dictionaries does have the article “the” in their example. With “the,” it refers to a specific night (e.g., the last night of my vacation) instead of just the night before. I agree that this is confusing without context, but I can’t misquote something that was taken from their site. See it here (the tenth example under “More example sentences” for the first meaning of “nauseate”:

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