Typo, medieval, slang, or just cultural; the old-age dilemma of Awesome vs. Awesome is one for the books. Stick around to discover the truth behind the confusion. Or if there’s even confusion at all.
Few can agree on whether “Awsome” is a word in disuse, an unintended mistake, an intentional idiomatic expression, or simply another funny spelling from our fellow Brits. The truth is that, to this day, Awesome is the most broadly accepted adjective to express extraordinary wonder.
Let’s dive right in and shed some light on this frequent (yet relatively simple) source of doubt.
What’s The Meaning?
When doubting the correct spelling or use of a word, it’s best to go straight to the most reputable sources. In this case, we’ve chosen; first, general definitions found in standard thesaurus; and then, The Merriam-Webster, Oxford Language, and Cambridge, which we’re sure will clarify this matter while properly explaining how, when, and why, to use both or either word.
Awesome’s most common use is as an adjective (both formal and informal); with definitions ranging from: “causing or inducing awe”; to “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear”; to “exhibiting or marked by awe”; “showing reverence, admiration, or fear”; “very impressive,” among others.
Merriam-Webster is probably one of the most -if not THE most-, reliable source when it comes to US English language reference texts and dictionaries, with a reputation dating as far back as 1831. It defines “awesome,” the adjective, as “inspiring awe”; or as an informal word meaning “terrific and extraordinary.” Alternatively, it also means “expressive of awe.”
Now let’s move on to our second relevant source. Oxford Languages, the world’s leading publisher in dictionaries throughout the globe, defines “awesome” (adjective) as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe.” On the other hand, in a more informal setting, “awesome” can mean “extremely good or excellent.” As an adverb, it is used (also informally and more frequently in the United States) to indicate “extremely well or excellently.”
Yet, a quick search for the word “awsome” does not bring back as eloquent and broad results. Both Merriam-Webster and Cambridge return a blank query, explaining that “the word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.” In the case of Oxford Language, we’re redirected to “awesome” as the correct spelling for the word and reiterating the definitions we mentioned above.
But in order to be thorough, let’s try crossing the pond to see what our good fellows in Great Britain have to say on the matter. We decide to embark on this quest, given that some sources report that the use of the spelling “awsome” can be traced down to Olde-English and, more precisely, to scots language. The Scots Language is the group of languages commonly spoken in Scotland, full of idiomatic expressions and idioms. On this matter, The Cambridge Dictionary informs us that “awsome” is nothing but a “common misspelling of ‘awesome.'” “Awesome,” on the other hand, is described as “causing feelings of great admiration, respect, or fear,” as well as something that is “extremely good.”
Where Does It Come From?
A word’s origin or source is called its etymology. In the case at hand, “awesome” is a word form from the union of two separate words: awe and some, both from the English language. Its use dates back from the 16th century (with first recorded evidence between the years 1590 and 1600), meaning “filled with awe.”
But it’s also reasonably easy to determine the correct spelling of a word by using its origin and formation. In the word “awesome,” as stated above, the term “awe” is followed by the suffix “some.” Therefore, “awsome” would not be a correct spelling as “aw” is not a word. Yet, there are exceptions to this rule of thumb.
Awful is a word or negative context, an extreme opposite to the word awesome we’re here to analyze. Awful also originates in the word “awe,” followed by the suffix “full,” both words having letters eliminated to form a term that is now considered correctly spelled. And not only this, awful is a word that, even if initially was defined as “full of awe,” now means something wrong or unpleasant, even terrible and damaging. So what’s the situation in this case?
There are two versions to this story. The first being that awe was, in fact, a word of negative connotation some centuries ago, used to convey a spiritual or even metaphysical meaning, or even dread or terror. Therefore, “aweful,” as it was allegedly spelled about a century ago, was a negative word from a negative origin. The second version claims that “aweful” did not, in fact, start as having a negative connotation at all, simply changing with use and ultimately becoming what we know and use today, giving space to “awesome” to represent all the positive, joyous meanings we now apply it for.
Same, Different, Similar, and Opposite
Albeit a versatile word, there is quite a list of words that can be used alongside or in place of this one in order to not sound too repetitive on how, well, awesome whatever you saw or felt really is. From as common as amazing, incredible, extraordinary, and stunning; to others more poetic as breathtaking, astounding, astonishing, magnificent, stupendous, mesmerizing, extraordinary, or staggering, the list is long. You can even go as literal as awe-inspiring, which is also planted in the same awe-some root.
If aiming for something a tad more informal, street jargon has got your back. Whether you choose to call it dope, lit, sick, or snatched, or be cooler than the next guy calling it GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) or Gucci, awesome is awesomely making itself felt in spirit.
If something is not awesome, you ask? Later on, we’ll discuss in length the curious case of the word awful, which should, in theory, be awesome, but really isn’t. Nevertheless, suppose you were to encounter something that is most definitely not awe-inspiring. In that case, you’d find it to be terrible, frightful, horrific, nasty, abominable, unspeakable, horrendous, atrocious, dreadful, direful, and, most likely, unspeakable. However, hopefully, you encounter nothing of the sort in your path.
When To Use Each?
Well, technically, “awsome” should not be used. Even as an archaic form of the currently accepted word “awesome,” the truth is that, in modern days, “awsome” is just considered a misspelling or a typo. “Awsome” is frequently found in message boards, collaborative websites, social media comments, and informal communications and usually denotes a lower education or socio-economic class of the writer or simply part of the so-called “text culture.”
So, How Should I Use The Right One?
That is indeed an AWESOME question! (see what we did there?). Awesome can be used in a myriad of ways, from formal communications to friendly chatter. For example:
The view from the lake was awesome (adjective: inspiring awe). It is an awesome (adjective: extraordinary) way to appreciate the scenery. Visiting this place was awesome (adverb: extremely well, excellently); we should definitely make this awesome (adjective: terrific) trip again very soon!
Awesome is such a word that can be dressed up or down; can be formal or colloquial; conveys a lot of emotion and joy, as well as beauty and excitement. It is present in the best and most incredible times of our lives, in the ones that become most memorable and most remembered. Awesome is there when you don’t want to answer much or talk a lot yet really say it all. And should always, with no exception, be spelled right, at risk of looking ignorant, uneducated, or just plain dumb.