smear vs smudge

the1dsuniverse

Senior Member
Spanish
What do you guys think it's the difference between smudge and smear?

I've done some Google research and a lot of people claim it has to do with the substance being liquid (smear) or solid (smudge).

They also seem to argue that "a smudge" is the product of "smearing". But I mean the difference between these two words as verbs. Not as nouns.

Plus I've looked up their definitions, and it's rather easy to understand what "smearing" something means, but when it comes to "smudge", WordReference includes the word "smear" in the definition, so I can't really grasp what the difference is.
 
  • 8thnote

    Senior Member
    English-Southern US
    What do you guys think it's the difference between smudge and smear?

    I've done some Google research and a lot of people claim it has to do with the substance being liquid (smear) or solid (smudge).

    They also seem to argue that "a smudge" is the product of "smearing". But I mean the difference between these two words as verbs. Not as nouns.

    Plus I've looked up their definitions, and it's rather easy to understand what "smearing" something means, but when it comes to "smudge", WordReference includes the word "smear" in the definition, so I can't really grasp what the difference is.
    The fact of the matter is that there isn't much difference between them. In AmE it is MUCH more common to use "smear" as a verb and "smudge" as a noun but not vice-versa.

    "I smeared some jelly on my toast" sounds fine but "I smudged some jelly on my toast" just sounds odd. Also "there is a smudge on the mirror" is good but "there is a smear on the mirror" sounds weird.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    There's an awful lot of overlap, I think.

    Without any specific examples or context, I'd say that to me, smear usually suggests applying something to the surface: smudge suggests rubbing it in - the rain smudged the ink on the piece of paper, for example.

    [cross-posted]
     

    RedwoodGrove

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    I tend to agree that "smear" includes more physical substance and it is likely to be somewhat liquid-like. Also a smudge wouldn't cover an entire surface. A smear is not particularly limited in size. You couldn't create a metaphor such as "smudge campaign". (compare: "smear campaign")
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    A smear is often deliberate or the result of incompetence, a smudge is very often an accident.
    Smeared on lipstick vs smudged lipstick, for example.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'd say so in general. I'm not sure that we don't have slightly different interpretions. If for example somebody touched a wet painting I'd be more likely to say you've smudged it.

    "You smeared the windows so badly when you cleaned them, that they were better before, when they were dirty! You left finger smudges all over them too."
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    In addition to the above, for me, "smear" can also suggest that the stain was caused by a movement across the surface which spread the substance while a smudge could be formed by a single touch. See Hermoine's sentence in #8 where smears might have been caused by wiping the windows while smudges were made by simply touching the glass.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would, yes, but I'm not sure that all of us would. Some of these distinctions fall into the realm of 'collocation', very similar words habitually used with others despite seeming interchangable. Words like small vs little, tall vs high, big vs large.

    It seems you didn't provide any sentences in your OP, although that's a forum requirement. Why not give us some now?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    For instance: "She dabbed her eyes, careful not to smudge her makeup"

    Why are they using "smudge" instead of "smear"? Would there be any difference?
    Dabbing is touching not rubbing/wiping. By what I said in #10, dabbing could cause a spot of makeup to be come a larger, indistinct spot (a smudge), but not to become a line or a curve (a smear)
    smudge.png
    .
     
    Last edited:

    English nerd

    Senior Member
    Hindi
    A smear is often deliberate or the result of incompetence, a smudge is very often an accident.
    Smeared on lipstick vs smudged lipstick, for example.
    So what will sound better "smudged lipstick or smeared lipstick ".

    As I've understood from this post, it should be "smear" used when it's intentional (as you said ), so will it be natural to say:
    She smeared her lipstick with her fingers.

    Am I right?

    Whereas, it should be:
    Her lipstick has smudged.
     

    English nerd

    Senior Member
    Hindi
    And when we're talking about "glasses" which one sounds better:

    She smeared her glasses.
    She smudged her glasses.
    (The glasses are blurry now)
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    We need context and sentences before we can discuss how the words are used.
    Women do not deliberately smear lipstick and who deliberately makes their glasses blurry?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    A little girl was wearing glasses and she _________ (smudged/smeared) it them with her fingers.
    That's not enough context to tell us what she did. She could do either. I think you should read the thread again. It's not about "intention." They are different actions with different results.
     
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