Word Confusion: Harm versus Hurt

Posted November 5, 2018 by kddidit in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I came across the word confusion between harm and hurt in a story I started this morning, and I was curious. There doesn’t appear to be any real difference between, but it is there. It’s quite subtle, and there are two differences:

  1. Long term harm and short term hurt, and
  2. Harm is usually hurting another while hurt is usually about yourself

Oh, and the technical differences are that harm is both a noun and a transitive verb while hurt includes an adjectival form and the intransitive verb.

For example:

  • When you budget and live within your means, it might hurt but it won’t harm you.
  • While your muscles may hurt after a strenuous workout, this is a hurt that will go away. If you’re dealing with ongoing muscle pain, this could be harming your body and causing lasting damage that will cause you further harm.
  • While hurt is the experience of something painful, it may not be damaging. But harm is different. Harm creates significant problems.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Harm Hurt
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Cartoon graphic of litter pouring out of a sewage pipe into the ocean while a freighter is leaking oil in the distance

Trash Degradation by Rilsonav is under the CC0 license, via Pixabay.

Continued pollution of the world’s oceans will harm us all.

At the beach one man in shorts is wrapping another's ankle while a third man looks on

A Little Tenderness by istolethetv is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via VisualHunt.

I’ll bet that hurts!

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1 and 2; Verb 1, transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: harms
Past tense or past participle: harmed
Gerund or present participle: harming

Adjective; Noun; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: hurts
Past tense or past participle: hurt
Gerund or present participle: hurting

Physical injury or mental damage, especially that which is deliberately inflicted 1

  • Material damage
  • Actual or potential ill effect or danger
  • Hurt

Moral injury

  • Evil
  • Wrong

[Military] A US air-to-surface missile designed to detect and destroy radar sites by homing on their emissions 2

Verb, transitive:
To injure physically, morally, or mentally

  • Damage the health of
  • Have an adverse effect on
  • To do or cause harm to
  • Hurt

To harm one’s reputation

Physically injured

  • Distressed or offended by another person’s behavior

Suggesting that one has been offended or is suffering in mind


Physical injury

  • Harm
  • Mental pain or distress

A blow that inflicts a wound

  • Bodily injury or the cause of such injury

The cause of mental pain or offense, as an insult

[Heraldry] A rounded azure

Verb, intransitive:
To feel or suffer bodily or mental pain or distress

To cause bodily or mental pain or distress

To cause injury, damage, or harm

To suffer want or need

Verb, transitive:
To cause bodily injury to

  • Injure

To cause bodily pain to or in

To damage or decrease the efficiency of (a material object) by striking, rough use, improper care, etc.

To affect adversely

  • Harm

To hurt one’s reputation

To cause mental pain to

  • Offend or grieve
It’s fine as long as no one is inflicting harm on anyone else.

It’s unlikely to do much harm to the engine.

I can’t see any harm in it.

It was that intent to do bodily harm that extended his sentence.

Don’t worry, my dear, you will come to no harm.

Oh man, that’ll do more harm than good, major.

Hey, no harm done.

Strictly speaking it was petty trespassing, but no harm, no foul.

She’s out of harm’s way.

The diet of milk and zwieback certainly did him no harm.

The prank was cruel, but they meant no harm by it.

There’s no harm in asking.

The HARM uses a multi-mode seeker to counter enemy shut-down capability.

Verb, transitive:
The villains didn’t harm him.

Smoking, drinking, or doing drugs when pregnant can harm your baby.

This could harm his Olympic prospects.

Going through with this will harm people’s perceptions of me.

He would never harm anybody in his life.

This taxi driver became violent and physically harmed me.

There is no use fighting intolerance by physically harming someone.

He complained of a hurt leg and asked his trainer to stop the fight.

There are so many dogs and cats with hurt paws after an ice storm.

“You know I care,” he said, in a hurt voice.

I felt so hurt and alone.

The hurt child was taken to the hospital.

Nothing but my pride was hurt.

Take that hurt look off your face!

We had a lot of hurt merchandise.

I’m hurt!

It was the hurt of being constantly ignored that sent her into a downward spiral.

His wariness masked a terrible hurt.

Three people were hurt after the bomb exploded.

It’s a hurt that he has tried all his life to heal.

A roundel may use a variety of colors, including hurt or wortleberry (American College of Heraldry).

Verb, intransitive:
Does acupuncture hurt?

Does that hurt?

Jesus, my back hurts.

The blow to his pride hurt most.

With the economy so bad, many are hurting.

Verb, transitive:
He hurt my baby!

Ow! You’re hurting me!

He was hurting badly, but he smiled through his tears.

The economy is hurting so many.

It wouldn’t hurt the lawn, if you watered it more often.

She hurt his feelings by not asking him to the party.

The frost hurt the orange crop.

Adjective: harmful, harmless, self-harming, unharmed, unharming
Adverb: harmfully, harmlessly
Noun: harmer, harmfulness, harmlessness
Adjective: hurtable, hurtful, hurtier, hurtiest, hurty, unhurt, unhurting
Adverb: hurtfully
Noun: hurter, hurtfullness
History of the Word:
1. Old English hearm (noun), hearmian (verb) is of Germanic origin and related to the German Harm and the Old Norse harmr meaning grief, sorrow.

2. H(igh-speed) A(nti) R(adiation) M(issile)

Middle English, originally in the sense to strike and a blow, from the Old French hurter (verb), hurt (noun), and perhaps ultimately, of Germanic origin.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

Satisfy your curiosity about other Word Confusions by exploring the index. You may also want to explore Formatting Tips, Grammar Explanations, and/or the Properly Punctuated.

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Death By Chocolate by JD Hancock is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via VisualHunt.

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