Afflict vs. Inflict

How to use "afflict" and "inflict" correctly

This is an entry on my list of Common Errors in English Usage. Visit the main page for direct links to additional entries.

To afflict means “to distress severely; trouble.” To inflict means “to give or cause (damage, pain, etc.).” Although they are similar in meaning, afflict focuses on the pain or suffering itself, while inflict focuses on the active cause of the pain or suffering. Generally speaking, if the word cause can be used as a substitute, you should use inflict, not afflict.

inflicted with various ailments
afflicted with various ailments¹

a region inflicted with drought
a region afflicted with drought”

suffering afflicted by the drought
suffering inflicted (caused) by the drought”

attack that afflicted heavy losses on the enemy
attack that inflicted (caused) heavy losses on the enemy”
losses inflicted (caused) by the enemy”

¹ Although “afflict(ed) with” seems to be the preferred idiom, “afflicted by” is also quite common.

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

© 2006, 2008, and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.