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Inflicting Confusion: Afflict v. Inflict

Ask a Teacher: Inflicting Confusion: Afflict v. Inflict
Inflicting Confusion Afflict v. Inflict
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question from Ray in Hong Kong about the difference between two very similar sounding words “afflict” and “inflict.”


Hello VOA Learning English,

What is the difference is between “afflict” and “inflict?”
Thank you,

Ray from Hong Kong


Thank you, Ray, for writing to us!

These two words are often confused. Not only do they sound the same — especially in fast speech — but they also have very similar meanings.

Both of these verbs can mean, “to cause harm or to bring pain to.” However, their correct use depends on who or what is doing the action and who or what is affected by the action.


The verb “inflict” takes a direct object. But that direct object is usually the harm that someone is suffering. For example:

Paper cuts always inflict much more pain than you expect.

Here the object of “inflict” is the pain from the paper cut.

We often use a prepositional phrase starting with “on” to tell who is suffering the harm. For example,

The war inflicted suffering on the people.

“Inflict” can also mean, “to impose” or “force.”

His job inflicts a lot of pressure on him, as he works very long days.

I do not want to inflict my bad mood on you, so I'm going to stay home.

Feeling under pressure
Feeling under pressure

Let us move on to “afflict!”

The verb, “afflict,” also means, “to cause harm to.” But the direct object of “afflict” is often the sufferer.

COVID still afflicts many at-risk populations.

Water-borne diseases sometimes afflict flood survivors.

A woman clears her home from mud following the flood caused by Super Typhoon Noru, in Marikina City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Sept. 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Lisa Marie David)
A woman clears her home from mud following the flood caused by Super Typhoon Noru, in Marikina City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Sept. 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Lisa Marie David)

If “afflict” is used in the passive voice, we often use the preposition “with” followed by the cause of the harm.

For example:

She was afflicted with depression for many months before asking for help.

My cat was afflicted with extreme sickness after he ate an insect.

Siamese cat stalks an insect.
Siamese cat stalks an insect.


Let’s review these two verbs.

For “inflict”:

Someone or something inflicts harm, pain or damage on something else.

For “afflict”:

Something, like an illness, afflicts someone. In the case of the passive voice, someone is afflicted with something that causes harm — like an illness.

Please let us know if these explanations have helped you, Ray!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

confusedadj. to be uncertain or unable to understand something

impose – v. to establish; to bring about as if by force

mood n. the way someone feels at a particular time


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