Learning new words, there is the definition of verb: to fertilize

To supply nourishment to plants.

I thought nourishment was some kind of fertilizer, then looking at the dictionary and also the translation I realize that is a way to say food.

If I speak nourishment to a native speaker he will understand what I saying (any person)? Sounds like a difficult, old-fashioned word that only some people know.

Is there a difference about meaning between these words that I missing? Are they interchangeable?

In ngrams the word nourishment is not usual than food, is still used?

4 Answers 4


Nourishment is the benefit that food provides.

The words are not interchangeable.

We eat food.

We do not "eat nourishment". We get nourishment or take nourishment from the food we eat.

Nourishment is abstract. Food is the word for tangible, edible things :)

  • Although 'nourishment' can refer to 'the act of nourishing or the state of being nourished' which in this sense it's abstract as in "her nourishment of the orphans saved many lives", it ALSO means 'something that nourishes or food'. I don't agree that if 'eating nourishment' sounds weird, then it's abstract. It can simply be because of register. You don't use it with 'eat' but you can use 'take' or other words. I think 'nourishment' in the sense of 'food' simply collocates with different verbs or used in different contexts that 'food' is used.
    – Yuri
    Mar 27, 2016 at 13:22
  • You might see this in a newspaper, "The refugees had taken no nourishment for 24 hours." It simply means the refugees haven't eaten anything for 24 hours.
    – Yuri
    Mar 27, 2016 at 13:22
  • Nourishment is abstract because it ends in the Latin suffix (via Anglo-French) -ment which denotes state or condition that result from an action. As I said, the benefit that food provides. "Take nourishment" is a phrase that was far more popular in the mid 19th century than it is today.
    – TimR
    Mar 27, 2016 at 13:45
  • Nourishment is the only noun form of nourish that can be abstract, although it is not necessarily abstract (but it can be used in a metaphorical sense, the nourishment of the soul, and so forth).
    – Yuri
    Mar 27, 2016 at 13:52
  • Nourishment refers to the result of eating, not to the food per se. It is in that sense abstract. It is a synonym for sustenance. We don't say "That sustenance was delicious."
    – TimR
    Mar 27, 2016 at 13:54

According to the definition of nourish:

  1. to feed or sustain (any plant or animal) with substances necessary to life and growth

This is more restrictive than food, as of course there are many unhealthy foods.
As for usage of nourishment, I think most reasonably educated people should know this word. We learned in in grade school when learning about healthy eating habits.

BTW, I have seen some fertilizer products (in the US) that are actually called "plant food". Possibly using a simpler word is considered a marketing advantage.


Fertilizer is something farmers use to help plants grow quickly. It could be regarded as "plant food" but the term fertilizer is very direct and more acceptable.

As you probably already know, English uses many prefixes (beginnings of words) and suffixes (ends of words) to modify a word to a different form. This is an example of a verb (nourish) being used as a noun (nourishment). So nourishment is the thing that nourishes plants, but only for your definition.

As for using "nourishment" instead of "food," don't do that in speech. Nourishment, a modified word, is much less common than food. You would only want to use nourishment if you wanted to say that something was good for your growth or health.


As living beings, we need food for sustenance and growth. While nutrition is possible through foods, not all foods are equally nutritious. I feel nourishment more specifically refers to foods that are considered essential in other words something that nourishes. It's more about food to stay healthy.

It's worth mentioning that the word nourishment is a formal word and you expect to see this more in formal contexts.

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