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When Are You "Anxious" And When Are You "Eager"?

Here is the latest in a series of tips on usage and style shared by Mignon Fogarty, better known as  Grammar Girl. With students returning to school, Mignon asks if they're best described as "anxious" or "eager."

Depending on how you feel, you may be anxious or eager for school to start. To some people, anxious has more of a negative connotation than eager. You're eager for school to start if you're looking forward to it. You're anxious for school to start if you feel nauseous every time you think about it.
Anxious comes from the same root as anxiety. If you can remember that, you can remember that anxious isn't a good thing.
Anxious is evolving, though. The distinction between anxious and eager was much stronger in the seventeenth century. Today, many people use the words interchangeably.

  • I'm eager to see my best friend again. (standard)
  • I'm anxious to see the school bully. (standard)
  • I'm anxious to get our new puppy. (acceptable, but sometimes disputed)

For more help in how to navigate words with similar meanings, check out Vocabulary.com's "Choose Your Words" feature.

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Mignon Fogarty is better known as Grammar Girl. She is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network, author of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, and the creator of the iOS game Grammar Pop. She is also the Donald W. Reynolds Chair of Media Entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism and Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Click here to read more articles by Mignon Fogarty.