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Addictive Versus Addicting

Today's topic is addictive versus addicting.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
April 10, 2014
Episode #411

Page 1 of 2

Addictive or addicting

Sponsor: Thanks again to lynda.com for sponsoring this episode. Try lynda.com free for seven days by visiting lynda.com/grammar and see what you can learn. 

Today we’re going to talk about the words addictive and addicting and whether they’re interchangeable. Some people say addicting isn’t a word. Are they right? 

An unnamed caller asks:

My friends and I were having an argument the other day about whether TV watching was appropriate or not. And someone said it was addictive and another person said it was addicting, and then it broke off into whether the proper word was addictive or addicting. Could you please explain this whole thing for us?

Would you feel better if I told you that you and your friends aren't the only ones who are arguing about whether the right word is addictive or addicting? There is actually a raging debate, and there is even one unconfirmed account of a tobacco lobbyist trying to use the uncertainty to influence policy.

When to Use Addictive

Using addicting as an adjective isn’t wrong, but addictive is the safer choice.

If you want to be safe, stick with "Television is addictive." Addictive is an adjective, meaning it describes the noun. Remember Schoolhouse Rock? "He was a scary bear. He was a hairy bear. And we described him with adjectives." Hairy, scary, and addictive are adjectives. Schoolhouse Rock was addictive TV.

Now, there are definitely people who argue that addicting isn't a word. They say that addict is a noun, not a verb. However, I did the simple thing: I looked it up, and three out of four dictionaries included addicting—and for those of you who care, The American Heritage Dictionary lists it as a transitive verb (1) and the Oxford English Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary list it as an adjective that was first used in 1931 to describe morphine. (2, 3) Strangely, the main Dictionary.com entry lists nonaddicting as an adjective, but not addicting itself. (4)

A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object. An example could be Amy was addicting Steve to Scrabble®. Steve is the direct object of the verb addicting—he's the receiver of the action.

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