The boy looked pretty sickly when he arrived. (at the prison of Azkaban)

I came across the sentence in the Potter book. I'm wondering, since both sickly and sick can be adjectives, what would be the difference? For example, can I instead say in this case?

The boy looked pretty sick when he arrived.

Any thought?

4 Answers 4


If there is a nuanced difference, I'd say that of those who have sickly in their working vocabulary (not all speakers do) some would tend to use sick with acute (sudden onset) illness and sickly with chronic illness. There is such variation that a listener wouldn't know what to think in that regard until they came to know a particular speaker's idiolect.


In this context I would say there is no difference. Maybe looking sick could be considered as above looking sickly in terms of appearing ill. Looking sick can also be slang for looking cool, but I doubt it's how it was used here.


since the word "sickly" is an adjective, then I guess it is OK to use it this way. In regards to meaning of the sentence, I think using sick or sickly doesn't make any difference.


The meaning is generally the same. I personally wouldn't use sickly and would use sick though.

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