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What is the difference between "to thrive in" and " to thrive on" in terms of meaning and usage?

Which one should I use in which situation?

For example: what does this sentence, from Cambridge dictionary, mean?

She seems to thrive on stress.

Does she have a tendency to be more successful and efficient in a stressful environment?


And what does this sentence mean?

Some people thrive in fast-paced, deadline-heavy careers, while others prefer less stimulating work.

Can I replace 'thrive on' with 'thrive in" ? Probably not, but what would it mean if I did?

  • I'd like to recommend you to think of "thrive on" as a phrasal verb (they thrive while they overcome "stress", for example), and "thrive" as a plain verb. – Damkerng T. Apr 13 '15 at 19:39
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This means the same thing as discussions about best habitats/diets of animals or plants, so I'll explain it in that sense because I believe it will be more clear:

(The statements below aren't necessarily facts)

Thrive In

This relates to an environment. It means that, while the animal or plant may be able to survive in other environments, it does extremely well in this sort of environment.

Desert cacti thrive in hot, dry environments.

Thrive on

This relates to food consumption (or, in the case of your question, what gives a person energy). As with the previous, an animal or plant may be able to survive on another diet but this diet is very beneficial to the plant.:

Horses thrive on a varied diet of oats, fresh grazing, and hay.

As it relates to Stress

When you say "Thrive on stress" it means that the stress makes the subject perform better than she performs when she's not in a stressful situation.

or can we say this sentence has meaning like "she can beat stress easily, she can be successful even though stress"

It says the opposite... "thrive on stress" almost implies that her success in a situation is due to the stress, not despite it.

  • Thank you Catija your examples and explanation are clear which made me understand better – Mrt Apr 13 '15 at 20:14
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I would say that in most cases, either way of saying it is ok.

However, I think when you see thrive on, you can think of it as feeding them, or powering them. So,

Steve thrives on challenge.

has a similar meaning to

Steve feels empowered by challenge.

When we're using thrive in though, it's different because instead of something that feeds them or powers them, we're giving a situation they are successful and productive in.

Polar bears thrive in cold climates.

A good example of the difference is we could also say:

Polar bears thrive on a diet of fish.

Hopefully that makes the difference more clear! Honestly, I would say that using them in the 'wrong' way would not be a noticeable mistake, and might not even grammatically be a mistake. things just sound better this way.

  • Thanks Dan, yes it helped. Can we say my interpretation is right for the sentence " she seems to thrive on stress" ? – Mrt Apr 13 '15 at 19:55
  • or can we say this sentence has meaning like " she can beat stress easily, she can be successful even though stress " – Mrt Apr 13 '15 at 20:00
  • She seems to thrive on stress is a very good usage. For the second one, it is also quite correct, but if I were to rewrite that sentence using 'thrive', I would say `She thrives even in stressful situations'. I would say you have a good understanding though. – Dan Apr 13 '15 at 20:04

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