What is the difference between "shiver" and "shudder"?

Oxford dictionary gives quite similar meaning:

  • shiver - shake slightly and uncontrollably as a result of being cold, frightened, or excited
  • shudder - tremble convulsively, typically as a result of fear or revulsion

So seems like both can be used to describe the situation when a person is frightened. Is it right?

2 Answers 2


Both words can be used to describe when a person is frightened (although, typically, I initially think of shivering in the cold, and shuddering at a thought).

I also think of shivers lasting a little longer than shudders. I might say, "I was shivering at the bus stop for almost twenty minutes!" but, "When I stepped outside, I shuddered in the cold," referring to a momentary shudder.

Likewise, if a young child trembled in fright during a scary movie, I might say he "shivered through the movie," or "shuddered at a scene." However, I must point out there are no hard rules about this; these are just ways I typically use these two words.

Shiver is also used in the expression "Shiver my timbers!" – which I don't hear very often, unless someone is trying to do a humorous imitation of a pirate.


Yes, both can be used to describe when a person is frightened. The difference between the two is that shudder is stronger than shiver.

For example, shiver could range from, "It sent a small shiver down his spine." to, "It made him shiver all over:" By comparison, shudder is a stronger, more jarring, reaction, "It made him shudder."

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