Afflict vs. Inflict – What’s the Difference?

Marcus Froland

Words can sometimes be tricky, especially when they sound similar but carry different meanings. It’s like walking through a dense forest where every tree seems identical, yet each one has its own story. In the English language, two trees – Afflict and Inflict – often get mistaken for one another. They sound alike and even share some common ground, yet they branch out in unique directions.

This mix-up not only confuses learners but also seasoned speakers. We’re about to shine a light on these two words, revealing the subtle yet significant distinctions between them. What makes Afflict different from Inflict? As we navigate through their definitions, uses, and nuances, you’ll discover the key to unlocking their mysteries. So hold your curiosity tight because we’re not giving away the secret just yet.

Afflict and inflict are two words that often get mixed up, but they have distinct meanings. Afflict is used when something bad happens to a person, often something like illness or pain. For example, “He was afflicted with a severe cold.” It’s passive; the focus is on the person suffering.

Inflict, on the other hand, is active. It means to cause pain, suffering, or punishment to someone else. An example would be, “The judge inflicted a harsh penalty on the criminal.” Here, the action comes from an outside force directly causing harm.

In short, afflict describes situations of suffering happening to someone while inflict describes causing suffering to others.

Introduction to -flict: Understanding the Latin Roots

When exploring the origin of both afflict and inflict, it quickly becomes clear that their roots converge in the Latin language, where a common and foundational suffix, -flict, connects the two terms. This suffix originates from the Latin verb flīgere, which translates to “to strike.” To comprehend the Latin roots of afflict and inflict and trace the etymology of other “-flict” words, it’s essential to delve deeper into the historical linguistic connections between these seemingly similar words.

The term afflict has its roots in the Latin word afflictus, which is a form of the Latin verb afflīgere, meaning “to cast down” or “to strike down.” As a result, the word afflict embodies the notion of distress, suffering, or being struck down by some form of pain or turmoil. In contrast, the word inflict derives from the Latin term inflīctus, which also stems from the Latin verb afflīgere. This etymological link underlines the close relationship between afflict and inflict and their shared origins in the Latin language.

“Afflict” comes from the Latin word afflictus, which is a form of afflīgere, meaning “to cast down.”

Further examples of words that share the -flict suffix include:

  • Conflict – from the Latin conflictus, derived from conflīgere, meaning “to strike together” or “to contend.”
  • Deflect – from the Latin deflectere, meaning “to bend away” or “to turn aside.”
  • Reflect – from the Latin reflectere, derived from re- (back) and flīgere (to strike), meaning “to bend back” or “to turn back.”

Understanding the Latin roots of afflict and inflict and the etymology of other “-flict” words is crucial for grasping the origins and nuances of these terms. With this foundational knowledge, you can begin to decipher the differences between afflict and inflict in contemporary everyday usage.

Defining Afflict: A Closer Look at Suffering and Distress

When it comes to the definition of afflict, it is important to note that it is a verb meaning “to distress with mental or bodily pain, or to trouble greatly or grievously.” Afflict is often associated with the sufferer of affliction and is typically used as a passive verb when referring to single subjects enduring affliction.

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To dive deeper into the usage and understanding of this term, let’s explore a few examples of afflict used in sentences. In these examples, the word “afflict” is effectively capturing the notion of suffering and distress.

“Millions of people worldwide are afflicted with life-threatening diseases.”

“His constant headaches afflict him to the point where he can’t focus at work.”

“Anxiety and depression often afflict those who experience high levels of stress.”

It is clear from these usage of afflict in sentences that the term is employed to describe a form of suffering, whether it be physical or mental. As we move forward in our journey to understand the difference between afflict and inflict, it is prudent to keep the definition and usage of “afflict” in mind.

Additionally, below is a table showcasing instances when the right choice of words is “afflict” rather than “inflict.” This table will help further cement your understanding of how and when to use “afflict” before we go on to discuss “inflict.”

Incorrect Usage Correct Usage
The drought continues to inflict the area. The drought continues to afflict the area.
Chronic pain is inflicted on her daily. Chronic pain afflicts her daily.
Companies are inflicted with financial hardships due to the pandemic. Companies are afflicted with financial hardships due to the pandemic.

In summary, “afflict” is used to describe the experience of suffering or enduring distress, typically on a person or a group. This is an essential aspect to remember when differentiating between “afflict” and “inflict” in future discussions.

Unlocking the Meaning of Inflict: Pain Imposed

The definition of “inflict” as a verb is to “impose something to be borne or suffered,” or “to deal or deliver a blow.” This includes the infliction of pain and extends to other forms, such as the imposition of beliefs. An essential aspect of understanding “inflict” is recognizing its grammatical nuances and usage beyond just physical harm.

The Passive Voice Usage in Inflict

When using “inflict”, it is often leveraged in passive construction with prepositions like “on” or “upon” to refer to the recipient of an action. This form emphasizes the act and the subject receiving the imposed action. For example:

“Damage was inflicted on the enemy forces.”

Here, the focus is on the action (inflicting damage) taking place and the target of the action (the enemy forces).

Infliction Beyond Physical Harm

While the infliction of pain might be the most frequent association with the term, “inflict” covers more than just physical harm. Its noun form, “infliction,” also refers to suffering that extends to mental stress and forceful imposition of beliefs and values upon someone. Essentially, “inflict” can be applied to any situation where one party is imposing something onto another, whether tangible or intangible.

  1. Physical infliction: Piercing a balloon with a needle.
  2. Mental infliction: Subjecting someone to constant psychological manipulation.
  3. Emotional infliction: Repeatedly provoking feelings of guilt, shame, or sadness.
  4. Ideological infliction: Pressuring someone to adhere to a specific set of beliefs.

Ultimately, the verb “inflict” underscores the agency of imposing harm or unwanted conditions, extending beyond physical pain and reflecting the vastness and complexity of human interactions.

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Afflict vs. Inflict: Identifying the Key Differences

Though afflict and inflict are often confused, understanding their key differences can help you use them correctly in various contexts. By focusing on what distinguishes the two terms, you can comfortably differentiate between them and know which verb to use in a sentence.

“Afflict” typically has a personal object that is suffering, whereas “inflict” has the form of pain or distress as its object.

Let’s examine the primary aspects that set them apart:

  • The object each verb takes
  • The prepositions they partner with

Knowing these distinctions will enable you to properly contrast between affliction and infliction.

As mentioned earlier, the main difference between these two verbs lies in the object they take. Afflict typically focuses on a personal object that is suffering, such as an individual or a group of people, while inflict targets the form of pain or distress being imposed.

Another variation between afflict and inflict is the prepositions they pair with. The verb afflict is often connected with the preposition ‘with,’ whereas inflict uses ‘on’ or ‘upon.’

Afflict Inflict
Personal object is suffering Form of pain/distress as object
Paired with preposition ‘with’ Paired with prepositions ‘on’ or ‘upon’

By considering these differences and remembering the proper usage of each verb, you can differentiate afflict and inflict and apply them accordingly in your writing.

Real-World Examples that Illustrate Afflict

Examples of afflict can be found in various real-life situations, affecting both individuals and communities. Some common real-world afflictions include diseases impacting vulnerable populations, long-term chronic pain sufferers, and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. In all of these examples, the victims are directly referenced as being struck by these maladies.

Diseases can often afflict vulnerable populations, such as those living in poverty or with limited access to healthcare. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic heavily afflicted economically and medically underserved communities, resulting in increased infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities.

“Throughout the pandemic, the economically and medically underserved communities have been the most afflicted by the COVID-19 virus.”

Long-term chronic pain is another common affliction that can significantly impact the quality of life for those affected. Conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches can cause persistent pain, suffering, and functional impairment.

  1. Arthritis causing joint pain and stiffness
  2. Fibromyalgia leading to widespread musculoskeletal pain
  3. Migraine headaches producing debilitating pain and sensitivity to light and sound

Mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can also afflict individuals, with potentially severe consequences for their well-being and daily functioning. These conditions can manifest as persistent feelings of sadness, worry, or irritability, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and appetite changes.

Condition Impact
Anxiety Excessive worry, restlessness, physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath
Depression Persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep and appetite patterns

These examples demonstrate the prevalent use of the word “afflict” to describe scenarios where individuals or groups are directly struck by suffering or distress. By understanding this term’s meaning and usage, you can better express and comprehend complex situations that involve pain, distress, and difficulties.

Practical Usage of Inflict in Sentences

Understanding how to use the verb “inflict” in various contexts helps you apply the term correctly in your writing and conversations. This section covers multiple scenarios in which the word “inflict” can be utilized effectively to convey the intended meaning. To ensure a thorough comprehension, we will also explore its use in both war and peace contexts.

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Inflict in War and Peace Contexts

When discussing war and conflict, “inflict” is appropriate for describing the pain and suffering caused by military actions. For instance:

The coalition forces managed to inflict significant damage upon enemy troops during the surprise attack.

In contrast, when referring to a peaceful situation, ‘inflict’ can be used to convey non-violent hardships such as emotional or psychological stress. Consider the following examples:

  • Working long hours can inflict mental strain on employees.
  • Emma’s harsh words inflicted pain on her best friend.

Now that you have seen “inflict” used in sentences and various contexts, note the emphasis on imposing pain or suffering onto another entity. To master the usage of “inflict,” remember to associate the term with the delivery of distress or discomfort.


Inflict is used when the focus is on the action of causing pain or suffering.

Common Misuses and How to Avoid Them

It may come as no surprise that the common errors involving afflict and inflict stem from the confusion that arises due to their similar roots and meanings. While both words share common origins, they actually differ significantly in terms of proper usage. In this section, we will explore some of the frequent mistakes made when using these terms and provide tips on how to avoid such pitfalls.

Incorrect Usage Correct Usage
Afflicted with punishment Inflicted with punishment
Inflicted by the flu Afflicted by the flu
The disease afflicted the economy The disease inflicted harm on the economy

So, what’s the trick to avoiding these types of mistakes? To steer clear of misusing afflict and inflict, remember that afflict focuses on the individual or group experiencing the suffering, whereas inflict emphasizes the pain or distress being imposed on them.

When using afflict, think about the suffering endured by an entity, while with inflict, consider the agency of imposing harm or unwanted conditions.

Keep these distinctions in mind when constructing sentences, and you’ll be well on your way to using afflict and inflict correctly!

Conclusion: Mastering the Usage of Afflict and Inflict

Understanding the proper use of afflict and inflict is essential for communicating effectively in written and verbal forms. By grasping the distinct meanings and applications of these words, you can enhance your writing and speaking skills while preventing misunderstandings. To summarize, “afflict” deals with the suffering experienced by an individual or group, while “inflict” focuses on the act of imposing harm or discomfort.

One tip for mastering afflict vs. inflict is to carefully consider the context in which each word is used and the focus of the sentence. Does the sentence highlight the pain suffered by a person, or is the emphasis on the action of causing pain or distress? By determining which word applies in a specific scenario, you can ensure proper usage and make your message clear.

Practice makes perfect, and with time and effort, you will become adept at using “afflict” and “inflict” accurately in various contexts. By honing this skill, you will not only enhance your own communication abilities but also contribute to a clearer and more precise discourse with others.

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