Could you please tell me what it means when English speakers say that someone is moody? Which meaning is more common? Does context play role? Does the frequency of using this or that meaning depend on the area you live (UK, USA, etc.)?

According to Wiktionary, this word has at least two quite different meanings.

  • It usually means "in a bad mood". If it can't mean that, then it means "frequently has bad moods". Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 4:45
  • It seems that it may be area-dependent. British online dictionaries give 'liable to frequent changes of mood' as the primary definition, while Merriam-Webster gives 'subject to depression; gloomy'. (All of them give both meanings.) Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 9:01
  • It would differ from context-to-context. It would be better if you could provide the sentence where you are looking for this word. Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 15:50
  • Comparing the relative prevalence of the collocations moody and depressed and moody and irritable on Google NGrams for both AmE and BrE corpuses, I don't see much difference. This suggests to me that both "flavours" of moody are equally familiar on both sides of the pond (there's no significant "regional variation"). Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


Speaking for USA, it often means the person is in a bad mood, or prone to bad moods, but out of politeness or fear you don't want to say directly they are in a bad mood (a common substitution used towards one's spouse).

It can also refer to a depressed mood. Example:

"Ever since John became a teenager, he has been moody. Happy one minute, crying the next."

Note this does sound like Kate's example of "liable to frequent changes of mood." The important point is it never has a purely positive connotation.

An example you would never see:

"Sally is so moody. Excited one minute, calmly happy the next."

I would suggest that context does not play a big role in the meaning of this word. It's always a complaint. In the rare case you wanted to point out to someone that they were in a happy mood when recently they were in a bad mood, you might say:

"You're having mood swings."

"Mood swings" has a very similar meaning, but with a hint towards a history of clinical mental instability.

You must log in to answer this question.

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