Vengeance vs. Revenge: What’s The Difference?

Learning languages can be a really exciting way to learn about a different culture, its country, and its people.  However, language can also pose several challenges due to the fact that languages often do not follow their own rules.  Anyone who has ever studied a second or even third language can attest to the fact that grammatical rules can be the most difficult part to learn.  From complicated verb tenses to noun declensions that cover both singular, plural, gender, and case, to the lists of pronouns that older languages like Latin supply…in short, grammar is difficult.

English is widely considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn just based on the fact that it tends to struggle with following most of its own rules.  Part of the reason for this is that English borrows (or just completely steals) most of its grammar from other languages.  English is an etymological mashup of several different languages which causes several common grammar mistakes.

One thing that makes English especially difficult to learn is the fact that English often employs homonyms, which are words that sound the same but have different meanings.  Also, different parts of speech, like nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, are often derived from one another, making the process of learning English very complicated.

Part of what contributes to English being such a difficult language to learn is that words can have different meanings and be the exact same word, or sometimes words that sound the same have completely different meanings, thus making learning English a very complicated process.

Let’s explore the words vengeance and revenge, learn their proper spellings, what they mean, and how to use them in their proper context.

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Definitions of Revenge and Vengeance

The first step to learning any word for the first time before you try to incorporate it into your vocabulary is to actually understand what the word means.  Learning the definitions of certain words is an excellent way to begin to use them yourself.  According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of the word revenge is, “to avenge (oneself or another) usually by retaliating in kind or degree”.  A secondary definition listed is, “to inflict injury in return for.” When you seek revenge you may be vengeful, seeking to retaliate against a wrongdoer to exact satisfaction. Seeking an act of revenge does not necessarily mean that you have a vindictive spirit, however, you may be seeking retributive justice from within your own hands for a family member or loved one whose well-being has been negatively impacted by a system like the legal system, the healthcare system etc. Revenge usually has a negative connotation along with words like vendetta, vindictiveness, and reprisal. Whereas related words with a more neutral or even positive connotation include vindicate or avenging. 

On the other hand, the definition of the word vengeance is listed as follows: “punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense: retribution”.   Essentially, the words do have very similar meanings, which leads to their complexity.  However, they do take different parts of speech.  Synonyms include attack and retribution. Antonyms include forgiveness and pardon. 

Is It Just a Spelling Error?

So any time you see a word that is not listed in the dictionary, your first thought may be to write it off as a spelling error.  In this case, however, that might not be your best bet.  Both the word vengeance and the word revenge are used widely throughout English literature, culture, and conversation.  Although they do have slightly different meanings, that does not make one a spelling mistake.  They also share the same root word, which will be discussed later on in this article.

However, that does not completely invalidate words missing from the dictionary altogether, and that is due to the fact that language is entirely driven by culture.  Any word that becomes popular enough, sees  widespread use, and has an acceptable and widespread spelling will eventually become “acceptable” and worthy of being included in the dictionary.  Take the word selfie for example: one hundred years ago, the word selfie would have never even crossed anyone’s mind, but now it is in dictionaries all over the globe.

What Part of Speech are Vengeance and Revenge?

Another good step to take when trying to learn a new word is to figure out what part of speech it is.  Ask yourself where the word would fit into a sentence.  In English, the primary parts of speech are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and prepositions.  Learning these well opens lots of doors in terms of what you can actually handle when it comes to learning new words.

The word vengeance is universally recognized and used as a noun, meaning that it describes a specific thing.  Vengeance is the noun used to describe the action of revenge.

On the other hand, revenge can be both a verb and a noun, and derives its meaning depending on which part of speech it takes.  For example, the definition listed above was for the verb, but the noun revenge can be defined as, “a desire for vengeance or retribution” (e.g. taking revenge).  

Etymology and History: Where Did Vengeance and Revenge Come From?

Learning a word’s history can be like opening a window into the past.  The etymology of most words in English actually reveals why things are so complicated in this language, and that is because most of English has actually been derived from a plethora of other languages.  The majority of words in modern English have gotten their roots in Western European languages by way of more ancient languages such as Latin and Greek.  

This word is no exception.  According to EtymOnline, the word vengeance comes from the French word “vengeance”, meaning revenge or violence, which in turn was derived from the ancient Latin word “vindicare”, meaning vindication or retribution.  French and Latin share a lot of common grammatical concepts, but that still does somewhat explain why the word itself causes so much confusion even today.  

Example Sentences In Context: Revenge and Vengeance

Here are some brief examples of the words revenge and vengeance in context:

  • His revenge was swift and his retribution terrible.
  • “Vengeance is mine”, sayeth the Lord.
  • The storm took a break for a while, but now it has come back with a vengeance.  

In Summary

At the end of the day, your audience is the most important factor in all communication.  Once you can read an audience, you will never pick the wrong words ever again.  Good luck!