Let's imagine in a quarrel between two people, one uses bad curses and words and a common friend of them comes to mediate between them. He wants to ask the friend who used bad words, "don't insult him (the other friend)".

Based on lots of dictionaries as below the adjectives "insulting" and "abrasive" have some conceptual overlaps which made me think they can be used interchangeably:

Insulting Vs Abrasive Meanwhile, I searched the sentence in my question in Ngram, but I didn't see any result for Don't be abrasive whereas I found the sentence "Don't be insulting" as commonplace. Don't be insulting.

So please let me know if the sentences bellow mean the same or not:

  • Don't be insulting.
  • Don't be abrasive.
  • Questions that can be answered by a simple yes or no are not generally valuable to ELL, per se. They are likely to be put on hold. In order to make this a better quality post, can you explain why you doubt this is not natural? Do you have reason to believe it sounds strange or incorrect?
    – Em.
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 7:13
  • @JimReynolds First, my comment was not meant as a slight against your answer. Second, your suggestion might be overkill, but it would be more useful than yes or no. It would be a much more useful post if we could compare this adjective against another, for example. I understand that sometimes the questions on ELL have little long-term value, but this just doesn't seem to be the place for yes or no questions.
    – Em.
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 10:46
  • @JimReynolds Further, now that we have more context, it seems that OP really wanted to know if the two phrases are interchangeable. By answering, "yes it's natural", OP might get the impression that the two sentences are interchangeable.
    – Em.
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 10:46
  • @Max I was asking in earnest, not defensively. And yes, they are absolutely not identical terms. I inferred from the original phrasing that the OP precisely wanted to suggest or warn not to be abrasive and simply wondered if the statement is idiomatic. Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 11:09
  • 2
    @JimReynolds thank you for pointing out me the problems in my question. It was really a helpful post. :)
    – A-friend
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


They have similar definitions, but we tend to use them to mean somewhat different things, and in different situations.

I don't have evidence for this, but as a native speaker, my sense is that we more often use abrasive to describe how a person is perceived by others, and to describe a relatively stable personality characteristic.

Many people dislike her. She often comes across as arrogant and abrasive.

On the other hand, we more often use insulting to describe something in particular that someone says or does. And more often to describe how a person is behaving or behaved in a certain instance.

The way the waiter talked to us last night was insulting.

More likely: She's an abrasive person.

Less likely: She's an insulting person.

In the context you describe, my sense is that most people would use a more casual and simple term:

Don't be rude. Don't be a jerk/ass/asshole/dick.

A bit more formal: Don't provoke him.

Abrasive is a more formal term, and more likely to be used in writing or by someone who often uses "higher vocabulary" words.

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