When to Use Nauseous vs. Nauseated

Sheldon Cooper is wrong.

If you watch The Big Bang Theory, as my family avidly does, you’ll know that this is a shocking statement.  Sheldon is never wrong. **Bad mom confession** I let my 10-year-old watch BBT. He loves the geeky qualities of the characters; I’m hoping all the innuendo goes over his head. Anyway, in an episode from the first season of the show, when Leonard tells Sheldon he feels “nauseous” about his upcoming date with Penny, Sheldon corrects him.

This grammar issue came up with my 10-year-old after we emerged from the underbelly of “The Bean”, officially known as Cloud Gate, in Millennium Park in Chicago. The Bean is a kidney bean-shaped sculpture (love all the public art in Chicago!) made of highly polished stainless steel and is a can’t miss photo-op in The Windy City. When you walk under The Bean, as my youngest and I did, all you can see is curving reflections of yourself and all of the other tourists crowded inside. For a 40 something gal with a sensitive vestibular system, this created a touch of vertigo. I was a good mom and took a selfie with my little guy, and then I got us out of there.

Our reflection on the underside of The Bean.

As we emerged, I said, “Whew, that made me nauseous.”
My guy, an ardent Sheldon Cooper fan, said, “No, you mean nauseated. Like Sheldon said.”

But it didn’t sound right to me. So I looked it up. And I repeat, Sheldon is wrong. Well, sort of.

  • Nauseous: adjective
    Causing nausea or disgust  (The nauseous smell of rotting meat hit me when I lifted the lid.)
    Affected with nausea or disgust    (I felt nauseous when I got off the roller coaster.)
  • Nauseate: verb
    To become affected with nausea (The smell of tar nauseated him.)
    To feel disgust  (Her laziness nauseates me.)

Usage note from Merriam Webster:
“Those who insist that nauseous can properly be used only to mean “causing nausea” and that its later “affected with nausea” meaning is an error for nauseated are mistaken.” For those of you who really care:

  • Nauseous is used most often to describe feeling physically sick, usually with a linking verb like feel
  • Nauseating is used more often to describe figurative feeling of illness, like “His attitude is nauseating”.
  • Nauseated is used most often to describe being affected with nausea or disgust, but one could correctly use nauseous in this case as well.

In short, you can use nauseous or nauseated to describe being affected with nausea, and you’ll be right. So Leonard and I? We’re all good. I’m thinking that since nauseous is an adjective, and I’m using it to describe myself, a noun, nauseous makes the most sense. I guess I could also say “The underbelly of the bean nauseates me.”

Has all of this grammar talk left you nauseated? Am I the only person who cares about such nuances? 😉

Word Nerd Workout

Use nauseous or nauseated in a sentence, and let’s see if I made any sense this morning.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.







Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.


  1. You are not the only person who cares – I have actually looked this up before, but of course, I can never remember. Good to know that either one is generally acceptable!

  2. We watched the first episode of the new season pf House of Cards last night on Netflix and I told my DH that the similarity and closeness to real time headlines made me nauseated, actually sick to my stomach.

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