What to Watch for Wednesday: Weary vs. Wary

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Welcome to the first edition of What to Watch for Wednesday, a weekly feature where I go over common issues I see when I’m proofreading or wandering through the wilds of the internet. These may be usage errors, common grammar issues, common spelling issues, or anything else along those lines. If you have an issue that you’d like to see highlighted and explained, drop me a line!

I’m weary of her. I’m not sure I trust her all that much.”

What is wrong with that statement? Can you tell me? It makes sense on paper. It’s constructed properly. What’s wrong?

It doesn’t mean what it is meant to mean.

Two words: wary and weary. Both are adjectives. Both have a similar spelling. A person can be “wary of” something or “weary of” something. However, “wary” and “weary” are not interchangeable. One means somebody is feeling cautious about something or someone. One means someone is exhausted or bored. Care to guess which one’s which?

Which one should you use, and when: wary or weary? Let’s find out!

Wary vs. Weary

Confusion over wary and weary is an issue that hasn’t been on my radar until the last few years. I don’t know where it comes from or if I was just living under a rock, but it’s out there now, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Maybe I can help clear it up a bit.

Wary

Webster’s Dictionary defines “wary” this way: marked by keen caution, cunning, and watchfulness especially in detecting and escaping danger. It is an adjective.

Weary

“Weary” is not a synonym for “wary.” Its definition is this: As an adjective, exhausted in strength, endurance, vigor, or freshness; expressing or characteristic of weariness; having one’s patience, tolerance, or pleasure exhausted; as a verb, to become weary.

These two words are spelled similarly, but they are not the same. Their definitions aren’t the same. In some dialects, they might be pronounced the same, but they are not homophones in the majority of English-speaking areas, as far as I know.

Still, I see them used interchangeably all the time, usually with “weary” being used instead of “wary.” “I’m weary of that guy. He’s so creepy!” “I’m weary of these new rules. I don’t think they’ll be helpful.”

What is the source of this problem? For one thing, the spelling of each one is, of course, very similar. Just one letter changes unease to fatigue!

Then, there’s “leery,” another adjective defined as suspicious, wary. But you know what it rhymes with? Weary.

This language is wild.

How do you use these words correctly?

Here are some examples:

Wary

  • Bobzo the Example Guy has always been wary of the guy next door. He thinks Frank might be a vampire.

  • “Frank is wary of garlic and sunlight,” Bobzo said, to his cat. “I keep seeing him drinking red wine all the time, and it looks really red. Think I should be wary of him?”

  • Bobzo has always been wary of sleeping with his feet dangling off of the bed, no matter how weary he is. “That’s how the monsters get you!” he says. “Like Frank!”

Weary

  • “Burnout has made me so weary that I can barely drag myself out of bed in the mornings,” Bobzo said, with a groan.

  • Bobzo is so weary of having to drag himself out of his comfy bed and go to work. Me too, Bobzo. Me too.

  • “When I feel this weary,” Bobzo says, “I always start to get a little wary. What is my body up to now? Did Frank bite me?”

As you can see, these are different words with different meanings. Wary means cautious. Weary means tired.

How can you remember it?

A couple of things to remind yourself of if you are always getting these words wrong:

  • Wary starts with the same three letters as warn and warning. Feeling wary is a way your brain warns you about something hinky. Something that makes you wary is a little scary.

  • Weary has an E in it, like exhausted. Plus, life just wears you out sometimes, doesn’t it? Which leaves you so weary.

Still wary? Weary?

Weary vs. wary doesn’t have to make you wary or weary. If you just remember which one is a warning—wary—and which one is wearing you out—weary—you’ll be okay. Don’t let that one little E trip you up! If you keep the differences in mind, you don’t have to be wary of using the wrong one, or weary from not knowing the difference. Instead, you’ll be able to use both of them with confidence.


Are wary and weary a problem for you? How do you keep up with the difference? Want to try using them in a few sentences yourself? Give it a shot in the comments below!

And, hey, are there any words, grammar rules, punctuation problems, or other such things that always give you trouble? Hit me up, and maybe I’ll cover them.

Come back next Wednesday for another edition of What to Watch for Wednesday! And if you need some extra help from a sharp-eyed word nerd, hit me up for a free sample edit or hire me to proofread for you.

See you next time!

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