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English Club : Learn English : Vocabulary : Confusing Words : famous OR infamous?

famous OR infamous?

These adjectives have rather different meanings, and different pronunciations. In simple terms, the difference is:

famous = Well-known

infamous = Well-known for something bad

If somebody is famous, then many people know about that person. Here are some famous people. You probably know all or most of them:

  • Michael Jackson
  • William Shakespeare
  • Adolf Hitler
  • George Bush
  • Queen Elizabeth II
  • Osama bin Laden
  • Elvis Presley

Notice that famous people can be good or bad. "Famous" does not "judge" people. It is just a statement that somebody is well-known.

Famous is objective (a matter of fact). Infamous is subjective (it tells you about the speaker's opinion).

If somebody is infamous, then many people know about that person because he did something bad. He has a "bad reputation".

Look at these example sentences:

  • The Louvre is a famous museum in Paris.
  • She is an infamous war criminal, wanted by Interpol.
  • Jack the Ripper was one of the most infamous murderers of all time.
  • What was Adolf Hitler famous for?
  • William Shakespeare is probably the most famous English writer.
  • Who is more famous - George Bush or Saddam Hussein?
  • Pol Pot was an infamous Cambodian dictator who caused the deaths of millions.

Notice that "famous" can describe people or things. "Infamous" is usually more for people.

Pronunciation

In both words the stress is on the first syllable, which means that they sound very different.

famous FA-mous /ˈfeɪməs/

infamous IN-fa-mous /ˈɪnfəməs/

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