Difference Between Obey and Follow
‘Obey’ and ‘follow’ are two ways to describe a person who is doing something they are ordered to do. They have different degrees of intensity and they have slightly different connotations. In addition, ‘follow’ has more meanings, while ‘obey’ is a specialized word.
‘Obey’ means for a person or animal – or, when personified, an object – to do what they are told. This can be either specific, such as following existing orders.
“He told me to take out the trash and I obeyed.”
“You need to obey me and tie him up.”
It can also be non-specific, such as the act of obeying another in general.
“She always obeys.”
“All of them were taught to obey.”
‘Follow’ is primarily a verb. The most commonly used meaning is to stay behind something or to go after it.
“I followed his car until he led me to the abandoned warehouse.”
“Someone is following them.”
It can also mean something that comes after another, such as in a list or schedule.
“The letter B follows the letter A in the alphabet.”
“We will have dinner, followed by a musical performance.”
Related to the last definition is that of a logical conclusion, which is usually phrased as ‘it follows that’.
“If water is wet and the ocean is made of water, then it follows that the ocean is wet.”
“It follows that if more cats are neutered, then there will be fewer cats on the streets.”
Next, it can mean paying attention to or keeping track of something.
“She follows all the presidential candidates and their progress.”
“His gaze followed the ball down the field.”
Finally, we have the meaning related to ‘obey’: to walk a path, either figuratively or literally.
“Follow the dirt road until you reach the town.”
“I used to follow his teachings and they guided me through a difficult part of my life.”
When it is used in this situation, it usually means that the person understands what they need to do, or that they are using the orders as a guideline.
‘Obey’ is a much stronger word than ‘follow’. Using the word implies that there is more meaning attached to it. For example, when a person obeys, they may have less choice in the matter, such as when a person is a servant and receiving orders from their master. Another possibility for using the word ‘obey’ is when the person has strong feelings about the person giving the orders or about the orders themselves. When they do care about the person or the orders, then they are more likely to devote more of themselves into fulfilling the orders.
‘Follow’, on the other hand, is something that is more voluntary or less binding. Following an order is more likely to be done by someone who has more choice in the matter or does not feel as strongly about the person giving the orders. It can also use the original order as a guideline instead of trying to carry it out to the letter; it’s much more common to see the phrase ‘follow [a person’s] guidance’ than to see ‘obey [a person’s] guidance’, because guiding a person is an offer and not a demand.
To summarize, ‘obey’ has more emotions or forcefulness attached to it. It has fewer possible meanings and it has connotations that imply that the person obeying is not in a position of power or cares very much about the person giving the orders. The person who follows, on the other hand, is more likely to use the orders as a guideline and has more of a choice or less investment in fulfilling the orders.
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