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Difference Between Vigor, Vigour, and Vigorous

The words ‘vigor’, ‘vigour’, and ‘vigorous’ are all forms of the same concept. All three words came through French from the Latin language. Both ‘vigor’ and ‘vigour’ come from the Latin and French spelling of ‘vigor’ – though it was also spelled ‘vigur’ and ‘vigour’ in French – which means much the same thing as the modern words do. The Latin ‘vigor’ came from the adjective ‘vigeo’, which meant ‘I thrive’, ‘I prosper’, or ‘I live’. ‘Vigorous’ took a more indirect route to English. The adjective was first formed in Medieval Latin as ‘vigorosus’ from the word ‘vigor’, became the French ‘vigoros’, and was adopted into English from there.

‘Vigor’ and ‘vigour’ are both noun forms. They typically refer to strength. This nearly always means an active show of strength, such as weightlifting, instead of passive strength, such as enduring a hardship. They mainly refer to the concept of strength or to it as a capacity. Someone with a lot of vigor or vigour would have the ability to display a lot of strength if they were pushed to it.

While they are spelled differently, there is no difference between the two other than the region of the speaker or speller. In the United States, it is more common to spell the word ‘vigor’. In United Kingdom or other Commonwealth dialects, ‘vigour’ is the more common spelling. The reason the spelling is different in the United States is a man named Noah Webster. He was the writer of the first United States dictionary and a number of language primers. One of his goals, besides improving literacy, was to simplify the language and some spellings. At the time, there was a debate over which spelling to adopt for some words, because some people wanted to push the language to be more like Latin and others preferred the English spelling. His idea to settle it was to revert to Latin spellings for many of these words and since he was very influential in the United States, his ideas caught on. This is why it is common to see some words spelled with a z in US English, such as in the ‘ize’ ending: that was the way it was spelled in Latin. For the words like vigor which can be spelled with either a u or without, such as ‘color’ and ‘colour’ or ‘honor’ and ‘honour’, the form without the u was the original Latin spelling.

Since the spelling was originally ‘vigor’, that leads to the question of why English picked up the u in the first place. These words were borrowed from French, where the –our ending reflected a different pronunciation. Some spellings for these words were kept, even if the pronunciation in English did not reflect the French spelling. A good example is ‘colonel’, which is pronounced exactly the same as ‘kernel’ but retains the spelling of a very different French pronunciation. Even though ‘vigor’ and ‘vigour’ are pronounced the same, there is still the inherited u in one of them.

‘Vigorous’ is the adjective form. Unlike the noun form, it is not accepted to spell it ‘vigourous’, since that is a misspelling. When it was borrowed from French, the word did not have the –our in it because the spelling was taken from Latin. The word ‘vigorous’ means to have the qualities or capacity of active strength. It can also mean a strong or rapid growth.

To summarize, ‘vigor’ and ‘vigour’ are the same word spelled in different ways. They are nouns and they both mean strength or the capacity for strength. ‘Vigorous’ is an adjective and it means to have the qualities of vigor or vigour.


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