Understanding the differences between abnegate and abdicate

7055

Member
American English
I have been looking into the definitions of these two words, they both have multiple definitions, some of which seem to overlap and some of which seem to be pertinent to only one of the words. I wanted to ask a few questions about these words to solidify my understanding. My native language is American english


Question 1) It seems to me, out of the two, abnegate is the only one that can be used to renounce a belief system. Is this correct?

"He abnegated his god"
"At the age of 20, he decided to abnegate the beliefs that his parents had tried to instill in him"


Question 2) Out of the two, it seems abnegate is the only one that can be used to mean self-denial of some pleasure. Is this correct?

"He is prepared to abnegate the instant gratification of owning a smart-phone"
"Being an ascetic means abnegating certain pleasures in life"


Question 3) Of the two, it seems only abdicate can be used to mean formally giving up a position of high power. Is this correct?

"He abdicated his throne in 1706 to his successor"
"He abdicated his position of chairman and CEO of the company"


Question 4) Out of the two, it seems both can be used to refer to giving up a responsibility or duty. Is this correct?

"The problem with this world is that too many parents are abnegating their parental duties."
The problem with this world is that too many parents are abdicating their parental duties."
 
Last edited:
  • GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I would agree with all of your comments. Note that the primary meaning of "abnegate" is to deny, and therefore for #4, the difference in use would be that those who abnegate a responsibility or duty might deny that the duty ever really existed, while those who abdicate their duties might acknowledge that the duty existed at one time, but now is not in effect.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    While most people will be (somewhat) familiar with abdicate (it’s ~20 or more times as common), few will appreciate the subtleties you describe. They sound about right to my ears but I personally would use a commoner word/phrase in the examples of abnegate.

    (You can/should put American English in your profile ield where you currently have “english” under you avatarless member name - it will save time in other posts:))
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Where have you found 'abnegate' used? To me it is a word confined to dictionaries and crossword puzzles; I don't think I've ever come across it being used in a sentence. I guess you can use it however you like as no one will understand what you mean.

    Your understanding of abdicate is correct, except that abdicating 'to one's successor' is meaningless. You might (depending on the country) be able to abdicate in favour of someone (I don't think the British monarch can), but usually you just abdicate.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I wouldn't say that "abdicating to your successor" is exactly meaningless, but it's certainly redundant. You always abdicate to your successor. There are usually rules that say who that successor should be, so King Edward VIII of Great Britain knew that his younger brother would succeed him and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands knew that her son would succeed her, but even if one can choose one's own successor, there always is one.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    I agree with post #4. I've only seen "abnegate" used in historical novels, and I would not expect the average AE speaker to know the word.

    Question 4) Out of the two, it seems both can be used to refer to giving up a responsibility or duty. Is this correct?

    "The problem with this world is that too many parents are abnegating their parental duties."
    The problem with this world is that too many parents are abdicating their parental duties."
    I don't think either word can be used to mean "failing to perform your duties well". Either word would imply "giving up" the duties completely. In the more common use of a "king abdicating", he stops being king entirely, completely, 100%.

    In this example, "abdicate" would mean "stop being a parent" -- send the child away, don't let them live with you. That is certainly not something "too many parents" are doing.
     

    7055

    Member
    American English
    Here's a few sentences where I don't understand exactly how abnegate is being used:

    ‘Another criticism is that they sentimentalise the past or make it antiquarian by abnegating the context and concentrating on the artefacts.’
    Mrs. Shem abnegates her part in the cursing and places the blame on the patriarch.
    'We should nurture our egos rather than abnegate them'

    What does it mean to abnegate an ego? Is it a form of self-denial? You are giving up the pleasure of having an ego?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    In this example, "abdicate" would mean "stop being a parent" -- send the child away, don't let them live with you. That is certainly not something "too many parents" are doing.
    It would be understood (and is widely used) in Britain to mean ignoring some, most or all of their responsibilities of being a parent. It doesn't (usually) mean throwing a child out of the home or stopping feeding them, but it does mean not disciplining them, teaching them how to behave, keeping them out of trouble or sending them to school. Not necessarily all of these; the usage can be taken to mean abdicating some of their duties.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Here's a few sentences where I don't understand exactly how abnegate is being used:

    ‘Another criticism is that they sentimentalise the past or make it antiquarian by abnegating the context and concentrating on the artefacts.’
    Mrs. Shem abnegates her part in the cursing and places the blame on the patriarch.
    'We should nurture our egos rather than abnegate them'

    What does it mean to abnegate an ego? Is it a form of self-denial? You are giving up the pleasure of having an ego?
    The word is used in each case to mean "deny", although there are slightly different shades of meaning here. In the first sentence, they are disregarding the context, and acting as if they deny there is one. In the second sentence, Mrs. Shem denies that she had any part in the cursing. In th third sentence, the speaker is saying that at present we suppress our egos and deny them their free expression, but instead we should encourage and nurture them (which strikes me as a generally bad idea, but that isn't a matter of word usage...;))
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    I have heard "abnegate" used only in the adjective "self-abnegating" or the noun "self-abnegation". A self-abnegating person denies pleasures or advantages to him/herself, usually in order to serve others better.

    self-abnegating
    Renouncing or rejecting one's own interests or needs.
    ‘a loving and self-abnegating mother’
    self-abnegating | Definition of self-abnegating in US English by Oxford Dictionaries

    self-abnegation
    the denial of one's own interests in favour of the interests of others
    self-abnegation - WordReference.com Dictionary of English
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top