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The definition of Cajole in cambridge dictionary says: to persuade someone to do something they might not want to do, by pleasant talk and (sometimes false) promises

And the definition for Coax: to persuade someone gently to do something or go somewhere, by being kind and patient, or by appearing to be.

Question: Are they synonymous or not? Can I substitute one for the other?

When to use Cajole and and when to use Coax? It is not enough for me to understand just by reading their meaning. I would appreciate some examples if you decide to answer.

Some reasoning behind my confusion:

  • The most effective technique is to cajole rather than to threaten.
  • He’ll talk if you coax him.

These both seem (and given as example under the links I submitted) correct and the meaning of each sentence does not change if substituted. So how to choose between coax and cajole while writing?

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    For this native speaker of American English, cajole suggests efforts at persuasion that are a bit stronger than for coax. And, as Cambridge says, cajoling is more likely to involve falsehoods than is coaxing. Of the two, coax has a more neutral feeling, while cajole carries more negative connotations. Sep 8, 2023 at 2:42
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    I'd call it cajoling when the coaxing goes from gentle to pushy. Sep 8, 2023 at 3:30
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    @YosefBaskin That analogy works, but since I'm not a native speaker, I don't know when to not use / avoid using either of two. I think I'll use coax if the situation isn't "hostile enough".
    – Rakib
    Sep 8, 2023 at 3:43
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    Coaxing isn't 'manipulating them into doing something by giving them no other choice', it's gently persuading and encouraging them to do it. You might try to coax a sick person into eating something, for their own good. Sep 8, 2023 at 7:25
  • Based on the definitions you gave alone you can argue that they overlap but are evidently not synonymous, and the one can substitute the other only in cases of overlapping. Can you focus your question some more? What exactly is your problem with the words? Is it simply that you never realized that they have different definitions?
    – Joachim
    Sep 8, 2023 at 9:58

2 Answers 2

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These aren't really synonyms.

The OED defines cajole as "To prevail upon or get one's way with (a person) by delusive flattery, specious promises, or any false means of persuasion." - so this is generally used in quite negative contexts, such as to criticise someone's methods of persuasion.

In current modern English, to coax [someone] generally refers to a gentler kind of persuasion*. It can also involve using flattery/promises, but it doesn't imply the same level of underhand methods/deception that the verb cajole does. It can be used positively, whereas cajole has a much stronger negative sense.

*Note: In older literature, coax sometimes had a stronger negative meaning, and implied making a fool of someone, but this sense is more or less obsolete now according to the OED. It is thought to have come from "to make a cokes of" - and meant something like "to make a fool of", to take someone in, by using flattery, etc, apparently from "cokes", a fool/simpleton, also obsolete now.

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  • Accepting as answer as this confirms that there is a connotation / tone associated with each word. Which I find rather useful in memorizing a word-usage (for me at least)
    – Rakib
    Sep 8, 2023 at 16:51
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They are slightly synonymous. But I wouldn't freely substitute one for the other.

Coax is a very common word and will be understood by most native speakers. If I was addressing a room of twelve year-olds, I would almost always use the word coax over cajole simply because it would be understood by more children.

Cajole, as it's used here in the midwestern U.S., is a more specific type of coaxing. As other commenters have mentioned, cajoling is often a more active form of persuasion than coaxing. Cajoling will more often involve verbal persuasion and perhaps an appeal to reason.

I am quite sure I can coax my cat to do something. I'm not so sure she can be cajoled.

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