severe vs. major

< Previous | Next >

river

Senior Member
U.S. English
Someone recently suggested that "major" was of a higher rank than "severe" in the scheme of things.

I was always under he impression that a severe drawback was "worse" than a major drawback.

Can anyone shed any light on this please ?
 
  • You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    river said:
    Someone recently suggested that "major" was of a higher rank than "severe" in the scheme of things.

    I was always under he impression that a severe drawback was "worse" than a major drawback.

    Can anyone shed any light on this please ?
    I agree with you. "Severe" suggests "extreme", where "major" seems to just indicate anthing more than 5 in a scale of 1-10.
     

    irisheyes0583

    Senior Member
    English (USA)
    Is there a context? For me, severe is used more formal situation. I wouldn't say "I have a severe headache" to a friend, but rather "I have a major headache." Also, I think severe implies something bad, whereas major can be good or bad. For example, you can have a "major crush on someone", but a "severe crush" sounds very strange to me.
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    I'm glad you mentioned it, irisheyes. "Major" is watered down, in my opinion, and is frequently used in place of "a lot of" or "very". For example, my son has "major homework." Sometimes, things are "major cool." The word "severe" still retains an air of seriousness and negativity. I also agree with Kelly: severe is worse than major. I think this is because severe brings to mind severing as in arteries or limbs, and that is bad, indeed. I would not use them interchangably at all.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Of course, major (unlike severe) can be used both positively and negatively.

    I only mentionned that to introduce my own question. Where would you place serious ?

    Would you say that someone is in a severe condition ? If so, is it worse than being in a serious condition ?
     

    nycphotography

    Senior Member
    American English
    Most superaltives are given precise measure by context and tone of voice / delivery.

    One element of context is one's knowledge of the speakers general tendencies in assigning scale to things with words.

    To me, major and severe are both used for "moderate to severe" events which are beyond merely "bad".

    The actual difference between the two is not concrete across all speakers.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Do major, severe - and serious - belong as degrees of intensity on the same kind of scale?
    There are contexts when each is appropriate and I don't necessarily see a transition from one to the other.
    I went to see if there might be any clues in the OED - and there I found what may be the source of your difficulty.

    Major:
    colloq. (orig. U.S.). Freq. as an intensifier: bad, serious; big, great; superlative, absolute.

    Severe:
    colloq. (chiefly U.S.). A vague epithet denoting superlative quality; very big or powerful; hard to beat.

    It looks as if AE has blurred the already subtle distinctions between these words so that there are many contexts where any of them might be used - creating the apparent desire to place them in order.

    Would it be cruel to suggest that for most purposes there is no need to do this, and that their relative position on the scale is a matter of personal choice? The exception being some contexts where the words are deliberately allocated to particular degrees of severity on a scale of some sort.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Panj you took the words out of my mouth.

    You can have a "major terrorist incident" but not a "serious terrorist incident" for example".
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    More thoughts on the subject: A "severe storm" and a "major storm" would suggest two different things to me. A severe storm would be extremely violent, but could be very localized. A major storm could be equally as violent, but is unlikely to be localized.

    Similarly, "a severe artillery bombardment" and "a major artillery bombardment" suggest different things. A severe bombardment could be aimed at a single target or group of targets, whereas a major bombardment would have a wider scope, although it could be equally as severe for the recipients.

    Thus, I feel that "major" suggests something about the scope of impact (or intention etc.) and "severe" suggests something about the intensity or depth of impact.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top