'Amused' Versus 'Bemused'

Are you amused or bemused? 

Mignon Fogarty
1-minute read


What's the Trouble? Bemused can be confused with amused.

Bemused means "confused, bewildered, or baffled" and has nothing to do with amusement or humor or anything funny at all. The eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope first used the word to describe someone who was muddled by liquor or had found a muse in beer.

What Should You Do? Think of bemused as similar to befuddled and use it to describe only someone who is confused. Avoid bemused in situations where the context is ambiguous enough to leave the reader wondering whether you mean "amused" or “confused."

What’s the Trouble? Bemused can be confused with amused. Here are two examples of the right way to use bemused:

“Draco was on the upper landing, pleading with another masked Death Eater. Harry stunned the Death Eater as they passed: Malfoy looked around, beaming, for his savior, and Ron punched him from under the cloak. Malfoy fell backward on top of the Death Eater, his mouth bleeding, utterly bemused.”

— J.K. Rowling in the novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

"Patrick Kenzie asking a bemused waitress for a newspaper in smalltown USA. 'It’s like a homepage without a scroll button?"

           — Dennis Lehane (Moonlight Mile)


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.