First of all, I would like to say that I’m a portuguese person trying to improve my english, so I apologize if I’m saying something wrong okay? Well my doubt is about the word “screw up”, “damage”, “spoil”, “ruin”... I saw in a dictionary app that all these words have the same meaning. I would like to know whats the diferences between each one and how to use it in the sentences. Thank you.

  • You might want to use a normal dictionary and not a smartphone app. Screw up is slang. The others are not. The Portuguese verb here would be: esculhambar.
    – Lambie
    Aug 8, 2019 at 15:24
  • As discussed under Is “I'm screwed” a rude expression?, you might want to be careful with a usage which at least some people (myself included) see as a slightly toned-down version of I'm fucked! Just as Screw you! is only slightly less coarse than Fuck you! Aug 8, 2019 at 15:50
  • @Andreia. Thanks for adding the screenshot. In order to know how to use the words I suggest you look them up in Wiktionary, which gives all the information you need in order to decide if the word is the right one for your context. Here is a link to Wiktionary's entry on spoil: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/spoil. If this is too advanced, then you could try Simple English Wiktionary: simple.wiktionary.org/wiki/spoil
    – Shoe
    Aug 8, 2019 at 16:07

2 Answers 2


One important distinction is that screw up does not require an object; both of these are valid:

  • I screwed up (by forgetting my appointment).
  • I screwed up the gadget (by pushing the lever too far).

The other three verbs require an object; you can say "I damaged the clock" but not "I damaged." —Except that spoil is intransitive as applied to food.

A thing that is damaged or spoiled may still be usable for its original purpose, but a thing that is ruined is not.

damage emphasizes harm to a thing's physical nature; spoil emphasizes impairment of its usefulness.

  • The refrigerator was damaged, and the food in it was spoiled (or: the food spoiled).
  • My shoulder was somehow damaged many years ago. It is spoiled for some purposes, such as weightlifting; but I would not say it is ruined, as the damage does not seriously impair my ordinary activities.

My shoulder was somehow damaged many years ago. It is spoiled for some purposes, such as weightlifting.

This isn't an appropriate use of the verb 'spoil'. You could say it has spoiled /spoilt my enjoyment of weightlifting but you would not say the shoulder was spoiled in English.


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