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Is there any major difference in the meanings of bewildered/bewildering and confused/confusing? How about the context in which they can be used?

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The definitions of the two are as follows:

Confuse:

1 archaic: to bring to ruin

2
a: to make embarrassed : abash
b: to disturb in mind or purpose : throw off

3
a: to make indistinct : blur
b: to mix indiscriminately : jumble
c: to fail to differentiate from an often similar or related other

Bewilder:

1: to cause to lose one's bearings
2: to perplex or confuse especially by a complexity, variety, or multitude of objects or considerations

Additionally, they are listed as synonyms, so I would say it is safe to use them interchangeably where their meanings overlap. Just make sure it's a case where they do mean the same.

One example where they aren't interchangeable:

I confused you with your sister.

means I couldn't tell the difference, or thought one was the other.

I bewildered you with your sister.

means I used your sister to cause you confusion. Granted, the first example could mean that, but wouldn't be understood in that sense.

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As Jim says, if you confuse X with Y, you're mistakenly thinking X is Y and/or that Y is X. But in practice, people usually say "I [mis]took you for someone else", rather than "I confused you with someone else". You normally hear that "misclassification" sense in constructions like "Don't confuse [my good idea] with [someone else's bad idea]" where there's an element of your thinking is sloppy / unfocussed / confused.

For most other contexts, the two words are effectively synonyms, but consider the usage history...

enter image description here

If that's not enough to convince you that confused is probably the better choice, consider this chart...

enter image description here

...which clearly shows that in "conversational" contexts, confused is overwhelmingly the preferred term.

  • While mistake can be used, I believe it is primarily used for people. You could confuse confused with bewildered, but I doubt you would mistake it. – yoozer8 Mar 14 '13 at 21:55
  • @Jim: Shome mishtake, surely? 28K hits in Google Books for "I mistook it for", and only 20K for "I mistook him for" suggests if there's any people/objects distinction involved at all, it's not very marked. – FumbleFingers Mar 14 '13 at 22:09
  • perhaps sum up him, her, you, and them; I imagine that would be more than it. – yoozer8 Mar 15 '13 at 0:16
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    Thanks very much for the charts. One question, I didn't fully understand why you said "shows that in conversational contexts". Probably I'm mistaken, but isn't Google ngram viewer a tool which shows the count of selected n-grams found in the books digitized by Google? So is there any way to show only the conversational/colloquial usage that I'm not aware of? – narengi Mar 15 '13 at 9:54
  • @narengi: It's not necessarily true for every single citation, but I think it stands to reason far more instances in the second chart will be reported speech, since we're much more likely to say the contraction I'm than we are to write it. – FumbleFingers Mar 15 '13 at 13:23

protected by Tyler James Young Apr 3 '15 at 3:57

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