Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Quest and Pursuit

The words ‘quest’ and ‘pursuit’ have somewhat similar meanings. They can, on occasion, be used as synonyms. However, they have – or at least used to have – different connotations.

A quest is a journey to find or obtain something, often paired with the word ‘epic’.

“The brave knights went on a quest to find the Holy Grail.”

The word can be used both as a noun or as a verb.

“They quested for many years, and the end was still not in sight.”

The word ‘pursuit’ means the act of chasing. Originally, it meant following with the intent to harm, such as during a hunt, but the meaning has relaxed since then. It can still mean that, but it has expanded to mean any sort of chase.

“He went to the kitchen in pursuit of a cookie.”

Along with that, it can be metaphorical to refer to going after an objective.

“Her pursuit of one day becoming the president was her only hope at times.”

It can also mean a hobby or another form of recreation. It is most often something done on a regular basis.

The biggest difference between the two words is that the word ‘quest’ is much stronger than the word ‘pursuit’. A quest is something that is often difficult or lengthy, and embarking on a quest means that a person is very committed to their goal. Often, they are passionate about the journey or the thing they want, more so than in a pursuit. The overall implication is that to taking on a quest means either that the person is very dedicated or that the goal of the quest is very important.

However, there is a tendency to take strong words and then use them for exaggeration so often that they lose that meaning. One example would be a number of words meaning ‘truth’. ‘Verray’, in Middle English, was an adjective meaning that something was true. However, it was used so often as an intensifier that it lost that meaning. It is still around today in a slightly shorter form: the word ‘very’. There is also a similar thing happening to the word ‘literally’.

This is a fairly normal process, where words pick up different meanings based on different uses. It is also why ‘pursuit’ no longer means to chase something with the intent of harming it, and most words have undergone something similar at one point or another. This has also happened with ‘quest’, where it has been used so often in less emotional contexts that it has lost the force it once had. Nowadays, it means something more along the lines of a driven pursuit of something, often with the promise of a reward at the end. Part of this is simple hyperbole, or using it overdramatically. Another influence might be the use of the word in video games, where it means something along those lines. While some video game quests can be long, painful, and undertaken with emotion, it is hard to consider using the word ‘epic’ for hunting to get bear pelts or for trying to pick a lock.

In any event, there is a slight difference in the grammar of the words. As mentioned above, ‘quest’ is both the noun and the present tense verb form, but ‘pursuit’ is only the noun; ‘pursue’ is the verb. You can be in quest of or on a quest for something, but you cannot be on pursuit or on a pursuit.

To summarize, a quest means a long journey to discover or obtain something. A pursuit can be either the act of chasing or a hobby. The meaning of the word ‘quest’ is changing to mean a task with a reward, however, and its meaning is growing closer to ‘pursuit’.


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