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The words bombastic, grandiloquent and ostentatious are synonyms. They all mean trying to paint you as a better person than you really are. When I looked them up in my English - Vietnamese dictionary, the meaning of them in Vietnamese are the same.

In English, I found these definitions:

bombastic using words that are intended to impress people but do not sound sincere or do not express things very clearly

grandiloquent expressed in extremely formal language in order to impress people, and often sounding silly because of this

ostentatious intended to impress people or attract their admiration, in a way that you think is extreme and unnecessary

I can tell the meanings are similar, but I haven't mastered English enough to tell if there are any differences between them. Can they be used interchangeably? Or are their some contexts where it makes more sense to use one over the other?

I'm trying to figure out, if I wanted to use one of these words, is there one that might sound better (or more out of place) to a native English speaker?

  • What happens when you look them up in an English dictionary? – starsplusplus Dec 15 '14 at 12:57
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    Ooker - I'm going to try giving your question a makeover – just this once – to give you a better idea of how to ask a question here. There's a meta thread that goes into this (I recommmend that you look at it, and the accepted answer there), but the basic gist is this: Don't just ask for a difference between related words; show us you've looked them up, and help us understand exactly why you can't figure out the answer just by looking at a dictionary. I hope this example helps you with future questions. – J.R. Dec 15 '14 at 14:16
  • @J.R. Thank you so much for spending time and effort to help me. I will keep in mind that when I ask a new question. – Ooker Dec 15 '14 at 16:33
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All three words mean to do something--usually to speak--in a way that is designed to be impressive, and they all carry the connotation that the thing added is not of real value; that it's just for show. The difference is in what is added.

With bombast the speaker adds something big and showy. Think of a popular preacher; loud, self-satisfied, and full of his own importance. This is more likely to be used when the speaker is puffing up his or her religion, or politics, or patriotism.

With grandiloquent the speaker adds something elaborate or complicated. Think of a diplomat standing in front of a bored audience giving a long speech full of complicated metaphors. This is usually going to be a highly formal speech, often too formal for the occasion (or for any occasion).

Bombastic and grandiloquent are close enough in meaning that they can be used almost interchangeably. There is, however, a difference in implication. A bombastic speech is more likely to be loud and aggressive; a grandiloquent speech to be formal and academic. But like I say, this is not a hard and fast rule, just a mild implication.

With ostentatious the speaker is showing off. This is similar to "bombast," but "ostentatious" is more often used for actions rather than speech. For example, if you drive your Ferrari up to the restaurant, walk past the valet and into the restaurant, and hand the waiter your keys, saying loudly, "Have someone take good care of my very expensive Ferrari!" you are being ostenatious. Most often, this is used to describe someone who is showing off their money.

A good example of a bombastic, grandiloquent speech is the Reverend Chadband in Dickens' Bleak House. Here is is first speech, on arriving at a family dinner.

“My friends,” says Mr Chadband, “peace be on this house! On the master thereof, on the mistress thereof, on the young maidens, and on the young men! My friends, why do I wish for peace? What is peace? Is it war? No. Is it strife? No. Is it lovely, and gentle, and beautiful, and pleasant, and serene, and joyful? Oh, yes! Therefore, my friends, I wish for peace, upon you and upon yours.”

This is a good example of "grandiloquent." It's overly flowery, overly elaborate, for the occasion, saying something in a hundred words that could easily be said in five.

Here is a later speech by him to the same dinner-party that would more likely be described as bombastic:

"It is," says Chadband, "the ray of rays, the sun of suns, the moon of moons, the star of stars. It is the light of Terewth."

Mr. Chadband draws himself up again and looks triumphantly at Mr. Snagsby as if he would be glad to know how he feels after that.

"Of Terewth," says Mr. Chadband, hitting him again. "Say not to me that it is NOT the lamp of lamps. I say to you it is. I say to you, a million of times over, it is. It is! I say to you that I will proclaim it to you, whether you like it or not; nay, that the less you like it, the more I will proclaim it to you. With a speaking-trumpet! I say to you that if you rear yourself against it, you shall fall, you shall be bruised, you shall be battered, you shall be flawed, you shall be smashed."

This is still grandiloquent, still over-elaborate, but it also has that bullying, over-the-top quality that is often associated with "bombast."

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  • Very informative, thank you so much. In short, would you say that grandiloquent and bombastic are for showing off the knowledge, and ostentatious is for showing off the money? – Ooker Dec 15 '14 at 17:23
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    That's often, but not always the case. If you walk into a party and say, loudly enough so that everyone can hear, "Oh, look! There's John, who I met while doing my Fullbright! He, I and Bill Clinton all hung out at Nelson Mandela's house a few years ago!" you are being ostentatious, but not about money. It's more accurate to say that "grandiloquent" and "bombastic" are about a manner of speaking, and "ostentatious" is about the meaning of what you do or say. – chapka Dec 15 '14 at 17:26
  • So, let me rephrase that: "grandiloquent" and "bombastic" are for showing off the knowledge, and "ostentatious" is for showing off everything else? – Ooker Dec 15 '14 at 17:29

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