I got a stain on my shirt


I got a smudge on my shirt ?

Which is correct and why ?


2 Answers 2


A smudge is usually a mark caused by something "dirty" being smeared across the surface of whatever it despoils the appearance of.

Usually, a smudge-causing "contaminant" is some kind of "paste" - it can be a (thinner) "liquid", or a fine "powder", but it has to be something wiped/spread across a larger area than the initial point of contact.

Because they normally involve wet/sticky contaminants, smudges can often be made worse by rubbing them (they just spread out more, so they get bigger). But if you get a smudge of [damp] mud on your trousers, say, you might be able to brush it off when the mud dries. Smudges are always surface-based.

A stain is more likely to refer to a contaminant causing a (possibly permanent) colour change in the thing despoiled. You might thus have a stain on your white shirt caused by a few drops of red wine - which if you're lucky you can rinse or wash out. But if you get smudges of (fine) icing sugar on your black dinner-jacket, or smudges of cream on your chin, you can usually brush or wipe them off without needing to resort to any kind of liquid-based cleaning process.

Also note that stains can be much larger. The entirety of a "stained shirt" may be discoloured (perhaps even consistently throughout its surface, if you washed it along with other clothes containing non-colour-fast dye). The less common "smudged shirt" would normally simply imply one or more localised areas of discoloration.


A smudge usually has the following properties:

  • Exist only the surface of the "smudged" object.
  • Comes from the outside always.
  • Laid down by direct physical contact with another object comes from direct physical contact i.e. can't be from a droplet sprayed from the air.
  • Has some significant solid component with some liquid characteristics e.g. paint, charcoal powder, grease.
  • usually has an elliptical, teardrop, or line shape because of the transfer occurred as two surface slid across each other as they touched.
  • Almost always accidental.
  • Rarely used as a metaphor for human states or moral actions.

A stain usually has the following properties:

  • Primarily defined as a color change in the material stained.
  • Can originate from either inside or outside the stained material.
  • Can be merely superficial of go all the way through the material.
  • May be accidental or intentional.
  • Material causing the stain is liquid that transfers even it rubs off a solid object e.g. tannins from nuts are invisible liquids that rub off and stain hands and clothes.
  • Often used as a metaphor.

Ex: You are working with paint. A flick of the brush throws paint on to your smock in round dots. Those are not smudges but splatter or splatted drops. If you drag try to wipe them off, spreading them out, that will be a streak but if small will be called a smudge. If you accidentally touch the smock with the paint brush while either is moving, it will create a smudge.

If some of the liquid of the paint remains permanently in the smock after you clean it, that is a stain. If you spill, spit, spray or even paint tea on the smock, it will always create a stain and never a smudge.

You can stain your reputation with an immoral act but you can't smudge it.

Note that "smudge" is often confused in speech with "smidge" as contraction of "smidgen" as in "just a smidge." Smidgen means "a very small and vague quantity. If someone wants you to move something a couple of millimeters he will say, "just a smidge to the right."

You might here a conversation that went like:

"hey you've got a smudge of something on your coat." "Oh, yeah, that's a smidgen of that paint I was working with. Must have got smeared on their when I took off my smock." "Ugly, color, better hope it doesn't leave a stain. " "Yeah, my aunt gave me this, wouldn't want to stain my reputation of being careless with gifts."

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