Amused vs Bemused

The English words amused and bemused are confused by some native English speakers.


Amused means entertained or made to laugh.

I was amused by his antics

Do you think she was amused?

I am not amused

The noun amusement refers either to the state of being amused or to something that amuses

His obvious amusement pleased me

What amusements do you have planned for the party?


Bemused means to find something confusing or puzzling.

I was bemused by his sudden decision to quit

You look bemused; should I repeat the question?

Bemused, he asked me to explain

The noun bemusement means confusion or puzzlement.

He stared at me in bemusement

I shook my head in bemusement

The Bottom Line

I’m sure the confusion between amused and bemused comes out of the fact bemused is less common and so when people hear it for the first time, they notice the similarity to amused and think the two words must have a similar meaning. In fact, amused and bemused mean two completely different things.

Just remember that you are amused at an amusement park (like Great America or Disneyland), and you are bemused when you don’t understand.

The misuse of bemused is so common in writing that I often have to read the sentence several times in order to determine whether the person really meant bemused (confused) or amused (entertained). I remember one author who consistently said bemused to mean "slightly amused." I didn’t find it amusing in the slightest. 🙂

18 Responses

  1. SF 4 March 2014 / 23:09

    THANK YOU! I see this error at least once a week; so often that I occasionally grab the dictionary to make sure it still has the same definition. Now, if you can convince people that “penultimate” doesn’t mean something to the effect of “super-ultimate”, then I’ll be all the more grateful…I mean, what can be more than ultimate?

  2. paul 20 March 2014 / 15:35

    According to the dictionary, your claim that ” In fact, amused and bemused mean two completely different things.” is off base.

    Merriam Webster online gives the third definition of “bemuse” as ” to cause to have feelings of wry or tolerant amusement ”

    So it looks like your distinction between “amuse” and “bemuse” is overstated. One has to include all the uses of a term if one is going to make claims about meanings, and shades of meanings. 🙂

  3. lkl 20 March 2014 / 18:23

    Thanks for your comment. Dictionaries sometimes make mistakes, as Merriam-Webster did here, perhaps due to the widespread misuse of “bemused” by Americans. None of these six dictionaries has anything resembling that meaning:

    The American Heritage does offer the 3rd meaning, but with a caveat:

    “The word bemused is sometimes used to mean ‘amused, especially when finding something wryly funny,’ as in The stream of jokes from the comedian left the audience bemused, with some breaking out into guffaws. Most of the Usage Panel does not like this usage, with 78 percent rejecting this sentence in our 2005 survey. By contrast, 84 percent accepted a sentence in which bemused means ‘confused.’ ”

  4. Clark 21 March 2014 / 10:54

    Is it possible that bemused is uncommon because it defines a very specific feeling between amused and confused? For example, people normally wouldn’t like to be confused, but if they found something slightly pleasant or entertaining yet couldn’t understand it, then bemused might be the perfect term. For example, a foreigner might be bemused by an exotic ritual.

    Coincidentally (?), bemused falls between amused and confused alphabetically 🙂

  5. Zorn 23 March 2014 / 22:02

    I think a great deal of the confusion–or, if you prefer, the bemusement–lies in that wry humour frequently (or possibly necessarily) points out the absurdity of a gesture; an absurdity which is likely to cause bemusement. While “amuse” and “bemuse” have different meanings, “bemused” can almost always be replaced by “amused” without changing the overall tone of the sentence. For example: “Tom was bemused by his neighbour’s curious habit of juggling geese on the lawn every day” has a different but not altogether dissimilar meaning to “Tom was amused by his neighbour’s curious habit of juggling geese on the lawn every day”, and if one is true it is likely that the other is as well. “Tom was annoyed by his neighbour’s curious habit of juggling geese on the lawn every day”, however, is much more contrasting.

  6. paul 30 April 2014 / 12:48

    Dictionaries sometimes make mistakes, but bloggers make a hell of a lot more of them. You’re simply claiming the editors of Merriam-Webster have made a mistake, which is not evidence that they’ve made a mistake. And the fact that some people still remember the fact that ‘bemused’ is sometimes used to mean “amused” in the cited sense shows that you cannot claim that “amused” and “bemused” mean two “completely different things,” and even less so that using it to mean “amused” in certain contexts is a misuse. Even by your own research, you’ve found that there is more than one accepted meaning.

    There’s a difference between there being only one meaning, and there being a more common meaning, which is clearly what we have here.

    Clearly there’s a more common meaning, but there should be little doubt by now that your claim was indeed overstated.

  7. lkl 1 May 2014 / 06:33

    I’ll repeat part of the American Heritage passage I quoted above: “Most of the Usage Panel does not like this usage, with 78 percent rejecting this sentence in our 2005 survey.” That’s a lot of people objecting to a supposedly acceptable meaning. You can dismiss me as just a blogger, but you can’t dismiss that 78%, plus the six dictionaries that confirm my statement.

    Here are a few other points of view:

  8. paul 2 May 2014 / 15:22

    So what if 78% of some random panel “does not like this usage.” What does that prove? Maybe they don’t read much literature, in which the less common meaning is used. Who knows. Further 22% apparently do not mind this usage. Maybe they’re the more educated fraction of the panel. Again, who knows. Either way, the validity of the contested meaning is not decided by the majority vote of your cited panel.

    I’m not “dismissing” you as a mere blogger (even though that’s what you are), simply pointing out that you have no authority to claim that Merriam Webster has made a mistake. Between the two of you, I’ll take Webster. If dictionaries some (or even one, I’m not going to go hunting for more) include the contested meaning and some do not, that’s all that’s needed to prove you overstated. The meaning is, at the least, in dispute, and therefore your claim about “completely different” is simply not established.

    Now It’s my turn to repeat myself: you’re apparently not grasping the distinction between more or less common meanings, and no meaning at all. The older, less common meaning of “bemused” may be on the way out, I don’t know, but it ain’t there yet.

  9. lkl 3 May 2014 / 06:06

    “The Usage Panel is a group of nearly 200 prominent scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language. The Panelists are surveyed annually to gauge the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.”

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree. You’ve made your case, your comments will be seen by everyone who reads this lesson, and they can decide for themselves.

  10. Dom Sequitur 27 May 2014 / 00:13

    Personally, this is how I understood the word. I like the connotation, especially when the need for such a word exists all too often. As I am a fan of both language preservation and language evolution, I prefer the use of a word that has greater practical use for common parlance of over academic purity. I am glad to know how words are traditionally used, however, for flexibility in vocabulary.

  11. jon reeve 23 June 2014 / 09:44

    Thanks for this. There are writer aid blogs that internet-publish misleading or incorrect information. Language evolves and misuse can eventually become the only or main use and therefore the only or main meaning known. So, in the future, this common misuse of bemuse may be termed correct. Until then, thank you again for your efforts to help the english language retain some structure and consistency.

  12. Hakon 22 August 2014 / 18:45

    As has been the academical consensus for at least a few decades now, the purpose of grammar and word definitions is first and foremost to describe use rather than prescribe use, the fact that “bemused” is used to mean “slightly amused” means that the word, consequently, does carry that meaning. In fact, I think most uses I’ve seen or heard of it were intended to mean exactly that. Language evolves. Errors become correct through frequency of use. It’s a sometime annoying fact of life.

  13. Salion Marcelion 12 September 2014 / 01:38

    The wryly amused follows from the confusion or bewilderment, which gives an ironic distance that makes for a kind of “alien amusement” if you will. There is, as it were, a Brechtian bestrangement going on here.

  14. jon reeve 13 September 2014 / 03:21

    I don’t believe your reference fits here, mostly because the ones who make this mistake don’t mean to make it. Also, I think your example itself is reaching a bit. You can be amused by your bemusement but that doesn’t make them the same thing.

  15. S.O. 15 November 2014 / 15:16

    History shows the two words were once linked in their origin:

    So why insist on looking down upon those who misuse “bemused” these days?

    Language does evolve–sometimes, back to its roots.

  16. Gandalfs Beard 15 January 2015 / 04:33

    Language does indeed evolve. Paul, Clark, and S.O. make the most credible arguments here.

    Literarily speaking, bemused is a delightful word to use in a sentence to indicate the feeling between confusion and amusement. The sentence “Her actions bemused him” flows much better than to say: “Her actions confused and amused him.”

    ‘Bemused’ is both more efficient and effective at conveying the state of bewildered amusement in a piece of prose.

    It is an error etymologically and logically to state categorically that the two words ‘amused’ and ‘bemused’ bear no relationship and to thus castigate others for making a “mistake.”

  17. Andrew Charnley 12 April 2015 / 07:55

    You have captured the essence of where we are at in the modern world of evolving language versus protected language and the originator has pleasantly held his ground and is right to do so or we would have poor discipline in how we conduct ourselves in all manner of our affairs.

    I have enjoyed reading the site author’s (blogger seems a somewhat offensive title in the context it is being used in this intercourse) intellectual contributions at bringing harmony to the discord and sometimes presumably amused and even possibly bemused audience.

    This seems a good site to bring up Americanisms of the English Langauge as on occasions it feels like butchery to have so many ‘isms’, amongst other distortions. Yet I do readily admit that often they have a word that we just do not have in English for the English born users of English and nevertheless contribute well to the language, like oil to a cog.

    My point is that whilst I am a purist at heart, I have to acknowledge a shift or an introduction that attempts to bring further expression and improve the ‘colour of language’.

    I could have used the word flexibility instead of colour but somehow the abuse of terms has been introduced or at least accelerated by the world’s newspapers, especially with headlines making exaggerated claims. Therefore so much distortion easily becomes ones norm’.

    We must continue to use English in a similar way that an artist takes his colours from a palette and makes his impression of what he wants you to see and feel; words are similar and the Oxford Dictionary claim they have an extra 1,000 words to add to the formidiable quantity of nearly one million words in English available to you. I am bemused that the French claim that their language of 100,000 words has a greater ability to describe the intimate in more detail than the English language – humbug!

    To emphasise how much English is made from many languages our history explains much of the source as we have evolved from occupation by the Roman, Dutch and German nations, which is why we and share much of our grammar and basic vocabulary with those languages. Also, the Norman Conquest of 1066 meant ‘Norman French’ was the accepted, and likely mandatory language of the Royal Court. As our dictionaries show much of the foundation of English relies upon Latin, the language of both church and scholarship.

    But I digress, as is any author’s perogative but I do enjoy all the interchanges but was saddened at the inability of some commentators to use graceful and considerate language instead of the rather facetious and deliberate high and mighty approach of the indeed more considerate, moderate and gracious original author of this website who I must commend…

    Oh, incidentally, in case there is a less than gracious fellow who wishes to pick me up on any of my grammatical errors I did leave school and home at fifteen and whilst not perfect at English I am a business developer and train university graduates in communications, especially presentation techniques. That is getting your message across is what matters not the syntax and language of English per se but the ability to think, structure and then to show and tell.

    Good Day Gentlemen (I hope),

    Andrew Charnley (Alias)
    Otherwise…Andrzej Ciechanowicz

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