The verbs “inflict” and “afflict” are spelled similarly and, indeed, closely related in meaning, since both refer to pain or suffering.
However, these terms are also opposites in some senses, so it is vital not to confuse them in your written work. Read on to find out more.
Inflict (Cause Suffering)
The verb “inflict” means “cause or impose something unpleasant,” usually pain or suffering. “Inflict” is a transitive verb, so always takes a direct object (the thing being inflicted) and usually requires an indirect object (the thing being affected):
The rider inflicted whip wounds upon the horse.
In the sentence above, the direct object of “inflict” is “whip wounds,” while the indirect object is the horse being whipped.
You can also use “inflict” to mean imposing something unwelcome, often an opinion. In this case, we could use it in a sentence like this:
At Christmas, Aunt Emily inflicted her extreme views about child discipline upon our entire family.
Afflict (Suffer from Something)
The verb “afflict” means “distress or affect something adversely.” It is often used passively rather than actively, meaning that we usually say that someone has been afflicted by something. For example:
Many people in the region were afflicted by a contagious disease.
You can use “afflict” with the active voice by placing the subject of the sentence before the verb:
Whooping cough usually afflicts those who have not been immunized.
Something that afflicts a victim is an “affliction.” This means “a state of pain or suffering.”
You can also use “afflict” and “affliction” figuratively, or sometimes sarcastically, to exaggerate the suffering involved in something:
We had to cancel our holiday because we’re too busy. Please sympathize with us in our affliction.
Inflict or Afflict?
These words could both be used to describe the same situation, depending on the perspective adopted. However, because of this, it is essential not to confuse them in your work.
Remember, to inflict is to cause somebody pain, suffering or injury. To be afflicted is to be the victim of pain, suffering or injury.