Averse or adverse?

Averse and adverse are two words that are often confused.

So here’s the difference: averse is an adjective or describing word meaning ‘to have a dislike of, opposition to or repugnance for something’.

For example:

I consider myself a risk-averse investor.

In other words, I dislike taking risks with my investments. Or:

She was very averse to the idea of having her work edited.

In other words, she didn’t like to be criticised. And, a classic piece of ironic British understatement here:

He’s not exactly averse to the occasional tipple.

In other words he quite likes a tipple - a tipple being an alcoholic drink.

So, some things to notice here.

First of all, averse is commonly paired with to when expressing what it is the subject dislikes.

Secondly, as the last two examples show, we often use the expression not averse to as a way to express the idea that someone is happy to consider something or even has a fondness for it.

Adverse with a d has a different meaning from averse. Where averse describes someone’s feelings, adverse expresses the idea that something is harmful or unfavourable. For example:

The train was cancelled because of the adverse weather conditions.

In other words, harsh or potentially perilous conditions. Or:

Commentators predict the currency will fall because of the adverse economic environment.

Again, a difficult or harmful environment. And:

Her work was subject to adverse criticism.

In other words, her work was criticised severely.

It’s easy to see why averse and adverse are often confused, because both have negative connotations.

But the key difference is that averse is often used of people - it expresses someone’s negative attitude to something. In contrast, adverse is usually used to describe the effect of something - as in these examples, the weather, the economy, and criticism.

These two different uses of averse and adverse are illustrated in the sentence:

She was averse to reading the adverse criticism of her work.

In other words, she didn’t like to read the negative criticism.

One way to remember the difference between averse and adverse is to think of other words that are related to them.

For example, the adjective averse is related to the noun aversion, meaning ‘a dislike of’.

Similarly, the adjective adverse is related to the noun adversity, meaning ‘hardship’ or ‘difficulty’.

So we might talk about someone having an aversion to criticism. But their aversion might be well-founded because it may cause them to experience adversity..

So just remember: use averse to talk about the way people feel, and adverse of effects or conditions.