Poisonous or Venomous?

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Poisonous or Venomous?

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. For example:
    • Do not eat these mushrooms. They are poisonous.
  • "Venomous" is an adjective describing creatures that inject their victims with a toxin. For example:
    • You can eat these fish, but be careful when handling them. They are venomous.
poisonous or venomous?


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.

Example sentences with "poisonous":
  • 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.


The adjective "venomous" is used to describe an animal that injects a self-produced toxin into its victim usually through stingers or fangs.

Example sentences with "venomous":
  • If you touch a venomous snake, it'll turn around and bite you so fast it's not even funny. (TV presenter 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.)

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

  • I could have gone through life thinking that women were these venomous creatures. Turns out, they're not. (Actress Claire Danes)
  • I don't use a pen to write reviews. I write with a venomous goose quill. (Screenwriter Jay Dratler)

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.
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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? practice or practise? principal or principle? cannot or can not? who's or whose? What are nouns? What are adjectives? What is figurative language? List of easily confused words