Ravage and Ravish

These Two Words are Commonly Confused

Flooded Car on an Urban Street
A street ravaged by flooding. Byba Sepit / Getty Images

Although ravage and ravish come from the same word in Old French (ravir--to seize or uproot), they have different meanings in modern English.

The verb ravage means to ruin, devastate, or destroy. The noun ravage (often in the plural) means serious damage or destruction.

The verb ravish means to seize, rape, carry away by force, or overwhelm with emotion. (The adjective ravishing--which means unusually attractive or pleasing--has a more positive connotation.)

See the usage notes below.

Examples

  • One of the world's last great rainforests was ravaged by loggers working for the President of Zimbabwe and his ruling clique.
  • Floods, droughts, and severe storms are likely to ravage North America more frequently as emissions of planet-warming gases rise.
  • Scotland Yard has launched a photo campaign to show the physical ravages caused by drug addiction.
  • "The English, we know, are malicious, megalomaniacal sadists intent on world domination. Given the chance, they would almost certainly ravish you, your wife or your sister. They might even eat your children."
    (Gareth McLean, The Guardian, July 9, 2003)

Usage Notes

  • "The word ravish, now literary or archaic, should be avoided in nonfigurative contexts. The primary problem with ravish is that it has romantic connotations: it means not only 'to rape' but also 'to fill with ecstasy or delight.' The latter sense renders the word unfit for acting as a technical or legal equivalent of rape, The term describing the act should evoke outrage; it should not be a romantic abstraction, as ravish is.

    "Still, the word ravishing (= captivating, enchanting) is generally considered a perfectly good and complimentary adjective."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • "Both words refer to powerful and usually destructive forces. Ravage is used when destruction is spread over a wide area by war or other overwhelming forces: ravaged by inflation / tribal warfare / acid rain. Ravish typically has a human subject and object, and means 'seize, rape' or somewhat paradoxically 'transport with delight.' The two kinds of meaning have their respective cliches in ravished virgins and ravished audiences, which are symptomatic of the fact that the word is usually euphemistic or hyperbolic."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    Practice Questions

    (a) The credit crunch continues to _____ overstretched banks.

    (b) According to Montaigne, poetry does not seek to "persuade our judgment"; it simply "_____ and overwhelms" it.

    (c) Over the centuries, much of Korea's historic architecture has suffered the _____ of war and fire.

    Answers to Practice Questions

    (a) The credit crunch continues to ravage overstretched banks.

    (b) According to Montaigne, poetry does not seek to "persuade our judgment"; it simply "ravishes and overwhelms" it.

    (c) Over the centuries, much of Korea's historic architecture has suffered the ravages of war and fire.

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Ravage and Ravish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/ravage-and-ravish-1689602. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 3). Ravage and Ravish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ravage-and-ravish-1689602 Nordquist, Richard. "Ravage and Ravish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ravage-and-ravish-1689602 (accessed May 25, 2018).