According to Google, cold-hearted is "lacking affection or warmth" while hard-hearted is "incapable of being moved to pity or tenderness" but I'm unable to differentiate between these meanings. Also, both have "unfeeling" as a synonym.

Can someone explain the subtle difference between the usage these words?

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    Both means the same. GoogleNgram shows that "hard-hearted" is used more. But I have heard "cold-hearted" more. :) – Usernew Nov 18 '15 at 16:17
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    @Usernew - that may just mean that you personally are more "cold-hearted" than "hard-hearted". (0: – CowperKettle Nov 18 '15 at 17:56
  • @CopperKettle You heard it right :) I am 'Cold-hearted" X2 + "heard-hearted". Now we are going off-topic :P – Usernew Nov 19 '15 at 6:18
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    @Usernew - Now, we are illustrating the meaning of "lighthearted". (0: – CowperKettle Nov 19 '15 at 7:38
  • The two meanings given in the post are correct and they are different. They just have some overlap in meaning. A cold-hearted killer may torture his victims to death for days without any feeling for them, and a parent may harden their heart against the plaintive cries of their children to deviate from a certain plan. – Daniel Stowers Nov 20 '15 at 5:22

Cold-hearted carries more of a connotation of being unfeeling and lacking in empathy - the ability to share, understand and feel another person's feelings - whereas hard-hearted carries more of a connotation of lacking in sympathy - an understanding of and feeling for the sadness or suffering of others.

Cold-hearted is more of a passive condition, of being uninterested in the feelings of others. Hard-hearted can be more of an active condition, of being disinterested in the suffering of others.

And there is a very large overlap of synonimity between them.

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