condescend and patronize

Discussion in 'English Only' started by adrnstyd, Apr 7, 2011.

  1. adrnstyd Member

    Purwakarta, Indonesia
    Bahasa Indonesia
    I've heard several times in movies when someone use the word "condescending" and "patronizing". And I perceive that they have almost the same meaning.

    My question is: What are the differences of the two?
    Can you give me some examples in sentences where "condescend" is more suitably used than "patronize" and vice versa?

    Thanks for your reply.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2011
  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'm afraid the forum doesn't work that way, adrnstyd: it's up to the person posting the question to provide examples.

    To find examples of your two words in use, you can click on the "in context" button in the relevant dictionary entries: condescend, patronize.
  3. adrnstyd Member

    Purwakarta, Indonesia
    Bahasa Indonesia
    I apologize if didn't follow the rules.
    I've seen some examples of the two used in sentences, but still I can't differentiate between the two.
    Can you just describe them in hierarchy way or the feeling maybe or any way to distinguish the two?

  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Can you give us examples of some of the sentences you've seen, adrnstyd?

    Then we'd be able to explain whether "condescend" would work in your sentences instead of "patronize", and vice versa:).
  5. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Did you look in the WR Dictionary, as suggested?
  6. adrnstyd Member

    Purwakarta, Indonesia
    Bahasa Indonesia
    These are some sentences I've found:
    My Questions are:
    What are the difference between the two in each of those sentences? And can it perfectly be replaced by one another?
    Can you show me how you would condescend a person and how you would patronize a person?
  7. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    The words are very, very close in meaning, but I hear a shade of difference between them.

    Patronizing is relating to someone as though you are superior and they are inferior. It is usually not very nice.

    Condescending is much the same, but there is some sort of kindness attached. The kindness, though, is the kindness of a superior to an inferior.
  8. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    For me when you're being condescending towards someone your intention is that they pick up on your superior tone. You can be patronising without intending to make someone feel bad, in fact quite the opposite - you say something that you think will be appreciated, often without realising that you're belittling someone.

    For example, if you pretend that someone's efforts at drawing, running etc. are really good, praise them enthusiastically because they're good efforts 'for a girl' you're being patronising. If you tell someone they should improve once they've grown up a bit you're being condescending.
  9. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Oh dear! Pickarooney and I seem to have exactly opposite understanding of the two words!

    I would consider both of those examples as condescending.
  10. boozer Senior Member

    Errrm, tough one this one :)

    To me the (slight) difference lies in the fact that with "condescend" the superiority is evident to both parties, while the act of "patronising" is mostly felt by the perceived "inferior"....

    Also, I've met "patronising" more often than "condescending", I think.
  11. adrnstyd Member

    Purwakarta, Indonesia
    Bahasa Indonesia
    What I get from your explanations is that patronizing is a contradictive saying that more intentionally done to annoy the other person, while condescending is unintentional and more like an encouraging advice from a person who sees the other person as inferior. Is that right?
  12. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I think the differences are too small to be significant.

    Farlex On-Line Dictionary defines "patronize" as "to treat in a condescending manner."

    So I imagine that the major differences might be with your personal experience.


    By the way I Googled "condescending vs. patronizing" and there were several discussions on the subject. None seemed definitive to me.
  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In the kind of settings discussed here, patronize is transitive, condescend is intransitive, so they can't be swapped.
    That doesn't help with patronizing and condescending ... much ... unless it suggests that to be patronizing there must be a person who is patronized, while one could be condescending in isolation.
  14. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    One could be condescending in isolation? How? :confused:
  15. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Well, nobody would notice, a bit like the tree falling in the Amazonian rain forest.

    I mean that one could be condescending without there being a specific object of one's condescension.

    Well I don't know, do I -- it was just a thought because condescend doesn't require an object and patronize does :)
  16. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I agree with panj - I think there's quite a big difference in usage between the verbs "condescend" and "patronize"/"patronise".

    There's less of a difference between the adjectives "condescending" and "patronizing"/"patronising".
  17. milesradish New Member

    When you patronize someone you talk down to them like a father would to a child. If someone accuses you of being patronizing it is because they feel you are talking down to them in order to make yourself feel superior.

    When you condescend you 'climb down' (descend) to be 'with' (con) someone. If someone accuses you of being condescending it is because they feel that you are deliberately pretending to be lower, in some way, than you think you are in order to be more like you think they are.

    Whether a person is patronizing or condescending is not always easy to tell (unless they admitted it, which would be unlikely!)


    Suppose you fail at something, perhaps you sent in an article to a magazine and it was rejected. You tell your friend, who has has several articles accepted by the magazine, all about it and he:

    (a) Talks to you the way a parent would speak to a disappointed child or the way a well-established professional might talk to a someone just starting out.


    (b) Pretends that he can't understand why your article was rejected when all of his (that were accepted) were not as good as yours.

    In (a) your friend was clearly being patronizing. He was enjoying playing the role of the experienced writer offering his assistance. His aim is not so much to give you helpful advice or commiseration but to make himself feel superior, more experienced, older and wiser, etc.

    In (b) your friend knows that he is a better writer than you but instead of playing the part of the more experienced person he pretends that you and he are on the same level. All the time it is obvious that he is clearly downplaying how good he is and that he is a lot better than he's making out he is. The offensive aspect is that while he's obviously a better writer (and knows it) it's equally obvious that he thinks you are as bad as he's pretending he is. As above, his aim is not to help you or commiserate but to make himself feel superior by (privately) comparing himself and his achievements to yours.

    Example #2

    Spotting a homeless person and saying "Right, we're going to get you into a shower and in front of a hot meal! And when we've done that, we're going shopping for a warm coat and new pair of boots." - is patronizing.

    Going up to a homeless person and saying things like "Well you have the freedom of not having a mortgage or needing to pay bills. You can get up when you like and go where you like. I envy your freedom." - is condescending

    In the first case you were giving yourself the position of superiority. You were acting like a parent would to a child. It is clear where you think the power lies in this relationship. In the second case you were attempting to bring yourself down to the homeless person's level. Sure he doesn't have home but that just means he doesn't have the stress of a mortgage or paying bills weighing him down - unlike you! The suggestion is that the homeless man has made better choices but of course the reality is that you don't think that at all. You were (painfully) aware of what appears to you to be your superiority over him and so tried to do say something that would ease the tension.

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