What difference is there between "Ashamed" and "Embarrassed"?

Is it that "Ashamed" is more serious than "Embarrassed"? For example, you'd say "I was embarrassed to be wearing mis-matching socks", while you'd say "I was ashamed of that stupid argument I had"?

I came across https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/88320/embarassed-vs-ashamed, but it had only one answer, and it didn't feel definitive enough.


Comparing these two definitions from OxfordDictionaries shows the two words obviously overlap...

embarrass - cause (someone) to feel awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed
ashamed - embarrassed or guilty because of one’s actions, characteristics, or associations

But two key differences are...

1: embarrassed more often applies to socially awkward contexts, rather than regret, guilt
2: You don't usually feel embarrassed when you're alone

I don't really like OP's idea that being ashamed is more "serious" than being embarrassed. I might feel ashamed if I discovered I was the only person in my road who didn't leave a Christmas tip for the postie, but that would be nothing compared to how embarrassed I'd feel if I discovered said postie knew exactly what was in all the packages she'd delivered over the preceding year!

TL;DR: Shame is mainly a response to having transgressed your own (internal) moral code. Embarrassment is more about feeling that others may laugh or look down on you for something you did.


From what I understand, embarrassed is used only when there are "other" people (particularly, around you) who can see the bad thing you just did. Embarrassment is a reaction caused by fear of being judged by other people as a wrong(or stupid) person.

But, ashamed is used for repenting about something you did, even when there is no one to see your fault. Shame is a reaction caused by self-introspection of what a person did.

You can be either ashamed or embarrassed or both about spilling your drink in public.

In case you have a secretly leaked question paper of tomorrow's exam in your bag, you can only be ashamed. Of course, your embarrassment will begin after someone discovers the leaked question paper in your bag.

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