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Difference Between Bounteous and Bountiful

‘Bounteous’ and ‘bountiful’ are words that look alike. They come from the same root word, are both adjectives, and have related meanings, but they cannot be used interchangeably most of the time.

Both of them are forms of the noun ‘bounty’, which in turn comes from the Latin word ‘bonitatum’, which is a form of the word ‘bonitas’, or ‘goodness’. ‘Bounty’ means much the same thing, but it is most often associated with the kind of goodness displayed by abundance or by giving. It can mean the act of giving to others, something that is given in large quantities, or a reward given for a good deed.

‘Bounteous’ and ‘bountiful’ are both adjectives of ‘bounty’. They have different suffixes, however.

The suffix of ‘bounteous’ is –ous, which indicates that something resembles or has qualities of the thing in question. For example, the word ‘righteous’ means a person who has qualities of rightness, or is a good person. The word ‘virtuous’ has a similar suffix and it means someone who has virtue.

The suffix of ‘bountiful’, on the other hand, is –ful. While there are some adjectives ending in this suffix that mean the amount held in it – such as a handful being the amount someone can hold in a hand – most of them have the next meaning. Adjectives with this ending literally mean that the thing it is describing is full of the root word. Figuratively, it means that the thing’s is completely made of that thing. For example, the word ‘wakeful’, when applied to a person, means that person is completely alert. ‘Harmful’ can mean something that is likely to cause harm, such as a bear.

The difference between the two suffixes is subtle: when it ends in –ous, it means that it has those qualities. When it ends in –ful, it is made of it.

The word ‘bounteous’ is not used very often, since ‘generous’ means the same thing and it seems to have displaced ‘bounteous’. A person who is bounteous is someone who is often willing to give a lot to others – having the quality of bounty.

“That bounteous man gave a few thousand dollars to the local animal shelter.”

It can also describe a very large gift.

“She gave us a bounteous amount of eggs the other day.” 

‘Bountiful’, on the other hand, means something that is made of bounty. It often refers to something that comes in large quantities.

“We had a bountiful harvest this year. I’ve never seen this much wheat stored.”

Between the two, ‘bounteous’ always describes something with the quality. This usually means a person, but that can also be the implication when talking about a gift. ‘Bountiful’, on the other hand, always describes something in a large quantity. Because there is so much of it, its nature is to be abundant.

It is possible to describe a large gift as being both ‘bounteous’ and ‘bountiful’, but those carry different implications. When the gift is being described as ‘bountiful’, it describes the gift itself. However, when saying it is ‘bounteous’, it actually refers to the person who gave the gift. By saying that the gift is bounteous, it means that the person who gave it is generous for giving so much.

With both of them, there is also the implication that the thing in question is good. You would not describe someone as bounteous for giving you a lot of rotten meat, and you wouldn’t describe an army of spiders as bountiful.

To summarize, ‘bounteous’ and ‘bountiful’ are both adjective forms of the word ‘bounty’. ‘Bounteous’ describes a person as generous, whether directly or through a gift. ‘Bountiful’ describes something as being in a large amount.

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