What do you call a long-lasting quite negative emotions towards someone because of their actions which has been remained since the past? I wonder which choice is more appropriate in this sense?

As a noun, the word "grudge" means:

A strong feeling of anger and dislike for a person who you feel has treated you badly, especially one that lasts for a long time. This feeling appears in someone when they have committed some slight or wrongdoing in the past and you cannot forget that.

  • Example: Johnny has been holding a grudge against me since we were 12 because I embarrassed him in front of a girl he liked.

The word "rancor" means:

Bitter, long-lasting resentment; deep-seated ill will and it is a feeling of hate and continuing anger about something in the past:

  • Example: They cheated me, but I feel no rancor towards/against them.

and the terms "ill will / feelings" mean:

Bad feelings between people because of things that happened in the past.

So what is the difference between these three? I just cannot understand why there are three exact synonyms for the same concept in English (at least based on dictionary definitions)?!

  • 2
    Guys, can we please stop voting to close A-friend's questions about vocabulary? These are clearly well-researched, and the the words are close enough synonyms that a dictionary is often of little help.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 18:33
  • Thank you very much @Andrew. I will never forget your support and attention....
    – A-friend
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 5:20

2 Answers 2

  • Grudge is the longest lasting (and perhaps most likely to lead to violent action), exceeded perhaps by feud, as in the Hatfield–McCoy feud.
  • Rancor I view as less long lasting (and less likely to lead to violence).
  • Ill will or ill feelings are less-strong sentiments... perhaps leading to lack of cooperation, but least likely of the three to lead to fisticuffs.

The glory of English is the huge number of words, derived from etymologically diverse sources, with similar denotation and differing connotation. It also makes English infuriatingly difficult to learn... so don't hold a grudge or any ill will against the language. Note how these are placed in rank or order


To add on to the other answer:

The important qualities of a grudge are that it

  1. is due to some perceived past insult or injury
  2. has been going on for some time
  3. inspires a desire for some kind of petty revenge

Rancor is just a fancy word that means ill-will/ill-feeling, but with more hate/anger. Feelings of rancor are unlikely to change quickly or easily. You may have feelings of rancor as the result of having a grudge towards someone, or these feelings might help you sustain the grudge, but these are still two separate concepts.

Ill-will is generally synonymous with dislike, although it is usually due to some incident. For example, you can dislike someone "on sight" (because of appearance or manner or circumstance) but you would not have ill-will toward them unless they caused you some minor insult or injury.

Either way, "having ill-will" is much milder than "holding a grudge". With ill-will, you may or may not want to take some kind of small revenge.

For example: A few years ago an older man hit my wife's car while backing up. While he was clearly the one at fault, he refused to pay for the repairs to her car for some time (almost a year), insisting that the estimate she got from the repair shop was too high. Even though she got a couple of estimates, all around the same price, he refused to pay. We felt he didn't understand how expensive car repairs are these days, even for relatively minor damage, because many parts of the outer body are plastic, not metal, and can't just be "popped back into place". They have to be completely replaced.

Eventually we had to get the repairs done through our insurance company, which was both a hassle and, in the long run, more expensive.

The point of this anecdote is that, while I do not hold a grudge toward this man, nor do I have any rancor toward him, I still bear him considerable ill-will for being so obstinate. If we were to ever meet him again, I would be polite, but not particularly friendly towards him.

Anyway. Not to complicate this list, but keep in mind there are many other synonyms for these words in addition to these three: malice, malevolence, spite, animosity, acrimony, antagonism, antipathy, animus, bad blood, hard feelings, hostility, etc.

You may find Merriam-Webster a useful resource for questions like this, because each dictionary entry includes a "choose the right synonym" section.

(Edit) I thought of another example:

I generally have ill-will toward anyone who downvotes my answers on ELL without explanation. I don't feel rancor towards them, but if I know who they are, I might hold a grudge and be tempted to downvote their answers out of spite.

  • Ah, I see @Andrew. Sometimes I really have a hard time distinguishing between such synonymous words. That was a helpful scenario and thank you very much for bringing that up.
    – A-friend
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 15:16
  • 1
    @A-friend It's exactly the same with native English speakers -- and the same for anyone learning your own native language. The best solution is to read extensively so you see the words used in context.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 15:18

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