fragile/delicate/sensitive

Hese

Senior Member
German
Hello there,

just wondering how to use fragile/delicate and sensitive correctly......

According to my dictionary,

FRAGILE

can be used with merchandise - fragile, handle with care
with people who are ill or old
with concepts like peace or happiness

- my question is: can I use fragile for skin and for a person's character in the sense of vulnerable? Is it possible to say:
a) she's a fragile person, you've got to handle her with kid gloves
b) He has fragile skin and needs a lot of suncream

Could I also say
she's a delicate person, she has delicate hair, delicate skin
She's a sensitive person, she has sensitive skin, sensitive hair

And which word should I use to express the idea of a person who is not broad-shouldered, puny would be too strong a word I guess.

I learnt the word "petite" for a woman, but what would you say for a child? Delicate? Fragile? Sensitive?

Thank you for your help
 
  • Hermocrates

    Senior Member
    Italian & British English (bilingual)
    As you said, fragile usually refers to goods, concepts or health.
    Fragile has a connotation of "easily damaged/broken" or "physically vulnerable". In that sense it can be even be used to describe skin: "fragile skin" means skin that bruises easily. The expression fragile skin is often used in a medical context.
    Similarly a fragile personality sounds to me like a personality prone to disorders/break downs (rather than "sensitive", which has to do with emotions - a sensitive person not necessarily suffers from a disorder).

    Delicate, to me, conveys an idea of "fine and good-looking". It can also mean "fragile", but I find delicate less negative than fragile. In this case delicate conveys the idea of something that "requires care and attention". For example, to me "delicate hair" means hair that requires a little more than average care, but it is not quite the same as fragile hair (which is probably already damaged or quite prone to that).

    Sensitive can be used as a synonym of these terms when dealing with a person (or, better, his/her parts, such as skin and hair, for instance), but it usually conveys the idea of "highly emotional or highly responsive to feelings or stimula". It deals more with emotions than physical appearance. A sensitive person is easily moved, but isn't necessarily delicate or fragile-looking.

    And which word should I use to express the idea of a person who is not broad-shouldered, puny would be too strong a word I guess.
    I would describe such a person as fragile-looking (slightly negative connotation) or delicate (more complimentary).


    Rye
     

    Hese

    Senior Member
    German
    thank you very very much for your wonderful explanation!

    Just one final question to make sure I get it right:

    delicate and sensitive are more emotional, right? so a delicate person or a sensitive person are more or less synonymous?
     

    Hermocrates

    Senior Member
    Italian & British English (bilingual)
    delicate and sensitive are more emotional, right? so a delicate person or a sensitive person are more or less synonymous?
    Not quite - a sensitive person is an emotional person (-> feelings). A delicate person is usually defined by his/her looks (--> appearance).

    These terms may overlap a bit in specific contexts, though.


    Rye
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It might be worth adding to Ryenart's excellent explanation that delicate can be used of someone whose health is precarious, someone given to catching colds very easily, or to stomach disorders, for example.
     

    y5choi

    New Member
    Korean
    To describe a woman, especially, who is not very big and tall, we can say 'petite' or 'small' but most people would say "she is tiny" (or "cute little" for a child). I find that women like being called "small", and "tiny" so don't be afraid to say it. Tiny works for both adults and children to describe their physical attributes.

    Here's how I use the other words:

    Delicate means 'soft' and 'warm' to me with a slight negative connotation

    Sensitive means 'touchy/feely', and 'reactive' (emphasis on emotion)

    Fragile means 'weak and frail' (emotional as well but with more negative connotation compared to 'sensitive')

    Hope that helps
     
    Last edited:

    Nymeria

    Senior Member
    English - Barbadian/British/educated in US universities blend
    Not quite - a sensitive person is an emotional person (-> feelings). A delicate person is usually defined by his/her looks (--> appearance).

    These terms may overlap a bit in specific contexts, though.


    Rye
    Hese, purely with regard to feelings, a sensitive person can be a person that is easily hurt or a person that is very in tune to the feelings of others. So a sensitive person (unlike an insensitive person) is tactful, kind, picks up and responds to emotional cues well. Sensitive people know how to efficiently handle those in emotional distress.

    Delicate, with regard to feelings, overlaps more with the first definition of sensitive - easily hurt.
     
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