by Mignon Fogarty
Today's topic is addictive versus addicting, and we'll get to use all kinds of big grammar words!
An unnamed caller asks:
My friends and I were having an argument the other day about whether TV watching was appropriate or not. And someone said it was addictive and another person said it was addicting, and then it broke off into whether the proper word was addictive or addicting. Could you please explain this whole thing for us?
Would you feel better if I told you that you and your friends aren't the only ones who are arguing about whether the right word is addictive or addicting? There is actually a raging debate, and there is even one unconfirmed account of a tobacco lobbyist trying to use the uncertainty to influence policy.
When to Use Addictive
If you want to be safe, stick with "Television is addictive." Addictive is an adjective, meaning it describes the noun. Remember Schoolhouse Rock? "He was a scary bear. He was a hairy bear. And we described him with adjectives." Hairy, scary, and addictive are adjectives. Schoolhouse Rock was addictive TV.
Now, there are definitely people who argue that addicting isn't a word. They say that addict is a noun, not a verb. However, I did the simple thing: I looked it up, and two out of four dictionaries included addicting—and for those of you who care, one listed it as a transitive verb (1) and the other listed it as a participle adjective (2). A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object. An example could be Amy was addicting Steve to Scrabble®. Steve is the direct object of the verb addicting—he's the receiver of the action.
When to Use Addicting
Addicting is the participle adjective of the verb to addict, just as annoying is the participle adjective of the verb to annoy. I don't think anyone would say that you can't describe someone as annoying, and similarly it is OK to describe TV as addicting.
A quick tip is that you can generally tell whether a word ending with -ing is a verb or a participle adjective by testing whether you can add a modifier such as very in front of it. If you can't, then it is a verb; if you can, then it is a participle adjective. In the sentence Television is addicting, it would be fine to add very and say, “Television is very addicting,” so that means it is probably a participle adjective in this case.
So I hope it's clear that it is correct to say both that television is addictive and that television is addicting. Nevertheless, there seems to be a lot of confusion in the world—and a lot of strong opinions—about this topic, so if you have a blog and you want to avoid a flame war, my advice is to stick with addictive.
When to be Careful
I have two other points.
First, some people think addictive should only be used to refer to negative things, so to them, referring to Scrabble as addictive would be wrong; but in everyday life it's common to hear positive things referred to as addictive (3).
Second, physicians who treat pain make an important distinction between patients who are addicted to drugs and patients who have a physical dependence on drugs. When people are physically dependent on drugs they get pain relief from taking the drugs and have withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drugs. People who are addicted to drugs exhibit behaviors such as hoarding drugs and taking drugs in ways they aren't prescribed or when they don't provide relief from pain (4). So it isn't correct to say people are addicted to drugs solely because they experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them.
That's all. Thanks for listening. You can find a complete transcript of this podcast and my contact information in the Grammar Girl section at QuickAndDirtyTips.com.
1. addicting. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/addicting (accessed July 02, 2007).
2. addict. Oxford English Dictionary. Second edition. Oxford University Press, http://tinyurl.com/2t65r5 (accessed July 2, 2007).
3. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, Springfield: Merriam-Webster. 1994, p. 27.
4. Savage, S., Covington, E.C., Heit, H. A., Hunt, J., Joranson, D., and Schnoll, S. H."Definitions Related to the Use of Opioids for the Treatment of Pain," American Academy of Pain Medicine, American Pain Society and American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2001. www.cpmission.com/main/addiction.html (accessed July 2, 2007)
SCRABBLE® is a registered trademark. All intellectual property rights in and to the game are owned in the U.S.A and Canada by Hasbro Inc., and throughout the rest of the world by J.W. Spear & Sons Limited of Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc. Mattel and Spear are not affiliated with Hasbro.