Amused vs Bemused

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

Amused

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

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 even slightly amusing. :-)

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5 comments for “Amused vs Bemused

  1. SF
    4 March 2014 at 11:09 pm

    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 at 3:35 pm

    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. Clark
    21 March 2014 at 10:54 am

    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 :-)

  4. Zorn
    23 March 2014 at 10:02 pm

    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.

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