Leaving aside all the meanings the words jolt and jerk have, I'd like to concentrate on their use when intransitive and performed by a person who is caught by surprise or horror as in the sentence:

She jerked/jolted in horror.

Do these words imply a single jump from the shock or a more continuous motion in a certain a direction? Is there a difference, in this context, between the two?

  • 1
    As James says, it's a single sudden motion here, but in another context it could be multiple spasms. She began to jerk as the potion took effect.
    – TimR
    Jul 3, 2018 at 11:21
  • Jerk is what something at the end of a rope does when the rope is pulled suddenly. Jolt is what a wheeled vehicle does as it travels down a bumpy road. To say that she jerked suggests that her body moved some part of it itself in a manner suggesting a whip. If she jolted then she moved as knocked off balance by an outside force. In either case her reaction was unusual.
    – David42
    Dec 14, 2018 at 1:46

1 Answer 1


Jolt is usually used transitively. Its intransitive use is rather less common, perhaps limited to describing the shaking of a vehicle:

The car started to jolt as it went off-road.

There is also the possibility of the transitive use, with the object being omitted by ellipsis.

In your example, "She jerked in horror" is better than "jolted" as it means a single sudden motion.

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