"Childish" vs. "Childlike"

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The adjectives childish and childlike both refer to the characteristics of a child—but generally not to the same characteristics. Put another way, childish usually has negative connotations while childlike usually has positive connotations.


Childish commonly means silly or immature. This adjective usually (but not always) points to unfavorable qualities.

Childlike means trusting or innocent, and it generally refers to the more positive or favorable qualities of a child.


  • "Her hands were beautiful too, and he noticed, looking at them slantwise and secretly, that the nail varnish was cracking and she had broken or chewed off the nail of her right pointer finger. It was childish and careless to have such nails, and he liked that best about her."
    (Martha Gellhorn, "Miami-New York." The Atlantic Monthly, 1948)
  • "Underneath each figure was written a name: Mama, Papa, Carla, Luka, in childish handwriting. Beside each was a small red heart drawn in crayon."
    (Glenn Meade, The Last Witness. Howard Books, 2014).
  • "Papa Ford loved my mother (as did nearly everyone) with a childlike devotion."
    (Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name. Random House, 1974)
  • "Even after Roosevelt had thrown him to the the wolves, Upton Sinclair never lost a certain childlike faith in FDR: a faith reflecting that of millions of other Americans."
    (Kevin Starr, Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California. Oxford University Press, 1996)

Usage Notes

  • "Childish relates to something typical of a child, especially in a derogatory sense when applied to an adult: 'Shouts of childish laughter rang in the park,' 'For goodness' sake, grow up and stop being so childish!' Childlike is more positive and pertains to qualities associated with the ideal child, such as innocence, trust, charm, and beauty: 'He had an almost childlike trust in the goodwill of his friends.'"
    (Adrian Room, Dictionary of Confusable Words. Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000)
  • "The distinction drawn is so familiar that childish is in some danger of being restricted to the depreciatory use that is only one of its functions, while childlike is applied outside its sphere; the face, for instance, that we like a child to have should be called not a childlike, but a childish face; the rule that childish has a bad sense is too sweeping and misleads. Childish used of adults or their qualities, and childlike (which should always be so used), have the opposite implications of blame and approval; childish means 'that ought to have outgrown something or to have been outgrown,' and 'childlike 'that has fortunately not outgrown something or been outgrown'; childish simplicity in an adult is a fault; childlike simplicity is a merit; but childish simplicity may mean also simplicity in (and not as of) a child, and convey no blame; childish enthusiasm may be either a child's enthusiasm or a man's silly enthusiasm; childlike enthusiasm is only that of a man who has not let his heart grow hard."
    (H. W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition, 1926. Ed. by David Crystal. Oxford University Press, 2009)

Practice Exercises

(a) Beth hissed, snarled, and kicked her legs in a _____ tantrum.
(b) Uncle Ned had a _____ faith in the power of love to transform lives.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Answers to Practice Exercises: Childish and Childlike

(a) Beth hissed, snarled, and kicked her legs in a childish tantrum.
(b) Uncle Ned had a childlike faith in the power of love to transform lives.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. ""Childish" vs. "Childlike"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/childish-and-childlike-1689341. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). "Childish" vs. "Childlike". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/childish-and-childlike-1689341 Nordquist, Richard. ""Childish" vs. "Childlike"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/childish-and-childlike-1689341 (accessed March 21, 2023).