Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Evil and Devil

Evil and devil are often viewed interchangeably as both words are associated with iniquity. For instance, “evil” is synonymous with “wicked” and one of the definitions of “devil” is “a very wicked person”. Thus, web searches for both words usually bring up similar concepts. However, they are two distinct words. The following discussions further delve into their differences.


What is Evil?

“Evil” came from the Old English word, “yfel” which means “wicked”, “vicious”, or “bad”. It is universally understood as the absence of goodness. Nonetheless, this is a very broad concept with subjective interpretations. Regarding religion, it is being immoral or disobeying God’s laws. For example, evil deeds are those that go against the nature of God. From a psychological perspective, being evil usually means being cruel and having a significant lack of empathy. For instance, exploitative behaviors like those of serial killers, rapists, and unethical human experiments exhibit no regard for others. Many experts say that “evil” behavior is often caused by an intricate combination of childhood experience, neurological factors, culture, and/or cognitive patterns.

Regarding expressions or idioms, the following are some of the pertinent examples:

  • Choose the lesser of two evils

Pick the choice with less disadvantages

  • Necessary evil

Something bad or immoral which must exist

  • Give the evil eye

Look at someone in vile way


What is Devil?

“Devil” came from the Greek word “diaballein” which is translated as “to slander” or “to attack” and it is often used as the general personification of evil. For instance, somebody is dubbed as “the devil” if he or she exhibits consistent cruelty. This word is also broadly understood as the highest spirit of wickedness. It is then the opponent of God as it stands for everything which goes against goodness. The following show some of the viewpoints of several popular beliefs:

  • Christianity

The devil is represented by the serpent which caused the downfall of Adam and Eve. He was the leader of the fallen angels who aspired to be better than God and was condemned to burn in the Lake of Fire.

  • Islam

The Koran characterizes the devil as envious and arrogant who rebelled against God and seeks to lead humans astray.

  • Buddhism

For Buddhists, the devil is always distracting humans from their spiritual goals by tempting them to engage in more mundane activities.

Regarding expressions or idioms, the following are some of the pertinent examples:

  • A devil of a time

A very difficult time

  • Speaking of the devil

Acknowledging the presence of someone who was just mentioned

  • Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Facing two highly unfavorable choices or decisions

  • Who or What in the devil

An intensifier to express confusion or aggravation

  • Devil’s advocate

Someone who likes to oppose an idea (even if he is actually in favor of it)


Difference between Evil and Devil

  1. Personification

Devil is the personification of wickedness while evil is the state of being wicked. This makes angels or God the opposite of devil while good is the antonym of evil.

  1. Parts of Speech

“Evil” can be an adjective (It was an evil deed), a noun (He has to choose the lesser of two evils), and/or an adverb (His thought went evil). As for “devil” it only functions as a noun (The devil cannot win).

  1. Antonyms

Generally, evil has a very distinct antonym which is “good”. On the other hand, several words come to mind regarding the antonym of devil such as “God”, “angels”, and “conscience”.

  1. Number of Related Idioms

As compared to evil, devil has more related idioms. For instance, one online dictionary features 12-15 idioms for “evil” while it features more than 40 for “devil”.

  1. Measurability

As compared to “devil”, being “evil” can be easily measured since we can put a certain degree to how wicked or cruel something or someone is. For instance, we can easily claim that shoplifting is less evil than genocide. Also, various personality assessment tools can quantify how less empathetic, hence “eviler” someone could be.

  1. Ngram Viewer

According to the Ngram Viewer, the search in Google books for “evil” had its peak in 1837 at 0.01402% while that for “devil” was in 1827 at 0.00314%. These statistics also represent the graphs’ trends which show that there are generally more frequent searches for “evil” than “devil”.

  1. Urban Dictionary

The top definition according to Urban Dictionary for “evils” is looking somebody in a bad way which is usually used as an excuse to start fights while that for “devil” is the justification for the bad things that one does.

Evil vs Devil: Comparison Table to show the difference between the two


Summary of Evil vs Devil

  • Evil and devil are often viewed interchangeably as both words are associated with iniquity.
  • “Evil” came from the Old English word, “yfel” which means “wicked”, “vicious”, or “bad”.
  • Regarding religion, “evil” is being immoral or disobeying God’s laws.
  • From a psychological perspective, being evil would usually means being cruel and having a significant lack of empathy.
  • “Devil” came from the Greek word “diaballein” which is translated as “to slander” or “to attack”
  • “Evil” can function as an adjective, a noun, or an adverb while “devil” is only a noun.
  • As compared to “devil”, “evil” has a more distinct antonym.
  • “Evil” has less related idioms and expressions as compared to “devil”.
  • “Evil” is more measurable than “devil”.
  • As compared to “devil”, “evil” has more searches in Google books.
  • In street language, “evils” is used as an excuse to start fights while “devil” is an excuse for bad actions.

gene balinggan

Gene Balinggan is a Registered Psychologist, licensed professional teacher, and a freelance academic and creative writer. She has been teaching social science courses both in the undergrad and graduate levels. Some of the major subjects which she is handling are Theories of Personality, Experimental Psychology, Historical Foundations of Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology.She co-authored a manual in General Psychology and a textbook, “Understanding the Self”. She is also currently the Psychology-Behavioral Science Society adviser in their university. Gene has also been a research adviser and panel member in a number of psychology and special education paper presentations. Her certifications include TESOL (Tampa, Florida), Psychiatric Ward Practicum Certification (Baguio General Hospital), Outcome-Based Education, and Marker of Diploma Courses (Community Training Australia). She finished her BS Psychology at Saint Louis University and her MAT Special Education and MA Psychology at the University of the Cordilleras.

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://www.deviantart.com/annemaria48/art/The-evil-575952039

[1]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/devil-hell-fire-daemon-evil-2249063/

[2]Baron-Cohe, Simon. The Science of Evil. Philadelphia. PA: Perseus Books, 2011. Print.

[3]Scupoli, Lorenzo. The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise on Peace of Soul. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2013. Print.  

[4]Zimbardo, Phillip. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How People Turn Evil.  New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 2008. Print. 

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