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What is the difference between hug and embrace?

Hug:

Squeeze (someone) tightly in one's arms, typically to express affection.

Embrace:

Hold (someone) closely in one's arms, esp. as a sign of affection: "Aunt Sophie embraced her warmly".

Is it only about strength or are there more subtle differences I don't quite grasp?

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You mean subtle difference you don't quite embrace, or hug? –  Cerberus Jan 24 '13 at 10:46
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The main difference is the level of affection shown in each.

You would hug a family member or close friend as a sign of being pleased to see them, but you would embrace a lover, wife/husband or boy/girlfriend.

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I think this captures the difference well. I don't think I'd ever tell my kids, "It's time to leave now; go embrace your Aunt Lois." –  J.R. Jan 24 '13 at 13:41
    
@J.R. Particularly if you didn't like her very much! –  spiceyokooko Jan 24 '13 at 13:53
    
Isn't 'embraced' used in non-affectionate situations, as well? eg the embrace between two society types where they grab each others shoulders/arms, and fake kiss both cheeks –  mcalex Jan 24 '13 at 17:16
    
@mcalex The dictionary definition of embrace is: The action of folding in the arms, of pressing to the bosom, so holding shoulders or arms probably wouldn't be an embrace! –  spiceyokooko Jan 24 '13 at 17:21
    
I've also seen it defined (google.com/…) as 'Hold someone closely in one's arms' and if you're close enough to (nearly) touch cheeks, you're holding them closely. The other example I was thinking of involves politicians who certainly don't hug each other when they meet in public/view of cameras –  mcalex Jan 24 '13 at 17:32
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To "embrace" can also mean to adopt a philosophy -- "She embraced shopping therapy with great enthusiasm."

"Hug" wouldn't make sense in that context.

When applied to personal contact, the answer about level of affection is apt.

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