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Poisonous and Venomous?

The Quick Answer
What is the difference between poisonous and venomous?

Poisonous is an adjective describing something that can cause death or injury if it is ingested or absorbed.

Venomous is an adjective describing creatures that inject their victims with a toxin.

Poisonous

The adjective poisonous is used to describe something (often a plant, animal, or chemical) that contains a toxin that is harmful when absorbed, consumed, or inhaled.

Examples:
  • Human fatalities caused by poisonous plants especially resulting from accidental ingestion are rare in the United States.
  • The wild golden frog may be the most poisonous living animal.

Venomous

The adjective venomous is used to describe an animal that injects a self-produced toxin into its victim usually through stingers or fangs.
  • If you touch a venomous snake, it'll turn around and bite you so fast it's not even funny. (Steve Irwin)
  • The adder is the only venomous snake found in the United Kingdom.

Using Poisonous Figuratively

Poisonous, when used figuratively, means extremely unpleasant or harmful. (It carries the connotation of being passively damaging.)

Examples:
  • Humiliation is poisonous. It's one of the deepest pains of being human. (Pierce Brosnan)
  • Writing as an expert is poisonous to the writing process because you lose the quality of discovery. (Siddhartha Mukherjee)

Using Venomous Figuratively

Venomous, when used figuratively, refers to a person (or their behaviour) full of malice or spite. (It carries the connotation of being actively damaging.)

Examples:
  • I could have gone through life thinking that women were these venomous creatures. Turns out, they're not. (Claire Danes)
  • I don't use a pen to write reviews. I write with a venomous goose quill. (Jay Dratler)
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The Difference Between Poison and Venom

Venom is secreted by an animal to harm another. It is usually injected by means of a bite or sting. It contrasts with poison, which is absorbed or ingested (consumed or inhaled).

Poison can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas. Venom, on the other hand, is usually a liquid.

Is There Really a Difference Between Poisonous and Venomous?

With so many people using poisonous where they should be using venomous, the distinction between these words is eroding, and some dictionaries cite venomous and poisonous as synonyms. However, it is worth knowing the difference so you showcase your vocabulary skills.