Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

What is the difference between hug and embrace?

If looked up in a dictionary, both of these words are synonyms of each other.  They both involve holding someone in affection.  While it is true that they have a very similar meaning and usage, there is a difference to be noted in these words.

‘Hug’ is a verb that means to squeeze or hold someone tightly in your arms.  It is a means of expressing affection to a person or physical object. For example:  He was seen hugging her.  ‘Hug’ can also be used as a noun.  For example:  He was seen giving her a hug.  The English word comes from an Old Norse word meaning to soothe or console and is related to other Old English words meaning to care for. The origins of ‘hug’ help explain the reasons why a person would hug another person, out of care, concern or affection.

‘Embrace’ also means to hold someone or something tightly in your arms as in hugging, but it also has an additional meaning of accepting or supporting something, like a belief, willingly and enthusiastically.  The word ‘embrace’ can be applied to an idea, theory, philosophy or other abstract concept.  For example using ‘embrace’ with a person:  She embraced her mother when she arrived home for a visit.  For example with an abstract side:  They embraced the idea of taking a trip to London next spring.  Like ‘hug’ this word can be a noun or a verb. For example:  The embrace of the new guidelines was asked of the entire department.

So it could be said that ‘embrace’ has a wider meaning than ‘hug’, because it can be related not only to a person but also more abstractly to ideas. Also in practical usage, ‘Hug’ generally is a more casual word, while ‘embrace’ is a more formal word.  In addition, ‘hug’ is used more commonly only for a shorter duration squeezing action while holding someone, while ‘embrace’ can also be used for holding someone closely to themselves in an affectionate position for a longer time duration.  For example:  He gave his girlfriend a quick hug right away but was later seen holding her in an affectionate embrace for quite a while.

When deciding to use either ‘hug’ or ‘embrace’, both the formality of the situation and the object must be considered.  With concrete things, like people, ‘hug’ or ‘embrace’ can be used, but with abstract ideas, ‘embrace’ must be used.  ‘Hug’ is more casual, and ‘embrace’ is more formal.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you a lot for addressing the formality of these two words. As a non native speaker I was specifically searching language forums for this specific piece of information but couldn’t find anyone mentioning the formality aspect except you. Also, some resources were linking the word embrace to sexual/intimate connotation and that made me hesitant about using it because I don’t want to sound inappropriate but your explanation assured me that it can also be used to refer to innocennt acts of showing affections such as between a mother and her son.

    Great post! you have my gratitude for the clarity of your explanation.

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