Is there a difference in meaning or usage between "desolate" and "deserted" (used to describe a place)?

  • A question like "What is the difference between this and that?" can be markedly improved if you first look up the words in a few dictionaries, and then include some of the definitions you found in your question. That way, instead of starting from the beginning and telling you something you already know, we can better understand what you want to learn, and answer that more directly. You are welcome to do that here and we can reopen this question. See our Details, Please... meta post for more helpful tips.
    – J.R.
    May 3, 2019 at 21:45

2 Answers 2


Desolate refers to a general emptiness.

(of a place) uninhabited and giving an impression of bleak emptiness. Oxford Dictionary

Deserted implies that the place had people (or animals, etc.) occupying it at some point but has since been abandoned.

(of a place) empty of people. Oxford Dictionary

Used in a sentence together:

This city was once surrounded by farm fields, but a plague killed the crops. The people left the city and left it deserted. Now, with ruined silhouettes and a wasteland where nothing grows around it, the area looks desolate.


It's a good idea to check English-language dictionaries when uncertain about the nuance between two words, as these might give more detail that doesn't show up in a translation dictionary:

deserted (adj) : (of a place) empty of people.

desolate (adj): 1. (of a place) uninhabited and giving an impression of bleak emptiness.

"Deserted" is normally used as a neutral term. A barren wasteland can be deserted, but so can a beautiful tropical beach.

"Desolate", on the other hand, always has negative connotations of both "without people" and "invoking feelings of hopelessness". If an author describes a desolate landscape, it implies that there is little there to support life, and little reason for people to want to be there.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .