Addicting vs. addictive

Addictive means causing or tending to cause addiction. The present-participle adjective addicting is technically synonymous with addictive, but there’s no reason to use addicting when addictive is a perfectly functional and even versatile word. The trend is to use addicting in reference to nonaddictive things that engender repeated indulgence (e.g., a great television show or a video game), but there’s no reason addictive can’t fill this role.

The use of addicting in place of addictive is a common peeve among people who care about these things, but it isn’t an error, and no doubt there are many readers who have no problem with it.


For example, addictive could replace addicting in these sentences:

Running road races can get addicting, so for those who love it there are three 5Ks this month … [Providence Journal]

The show was, in a word, addicting.  [San Francisco Chronicle]

Not surprisingly, helicopters can be addicting, so much so that some tour customers become students. [Seattle Post Intelligencer]

And these writers show that there is nothing wrong with using addictive in reference to things that are not drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substances:

Angry Birds is famous for its cute characters, charming visuals and immensely addictive gameplay. [Wired]

This is of course part of the addictive nature of Apple products. [Wall Street Journal]

As I drifted from turn to turn I felt weightless and wonderful – the addictive sensation of powder skiing at its best … [Telegraph]

51 thoughts on “Addicting vs. addictive”

    • *It sounds….. (capital letter at the start of a sentence)

      * in nature. (full stop at the end of a sentence)

      It is a website about grammar after all…

      • Also, “…” should never be used within a sentence, unless it is referring back to a large chunk of text. I believe the person forgot to use commas as well.

        Brackets are unconventional in day-to-day grammar. I noticed you also used “…” at the end of a sentence, most likely for dramatic effect. This is a big no-no.

        • True, this is a grammar website, but not everyone here claims to be a grammar expert. When you pick apart someone else’s post, it doesn’t make you seem particularly intelligent, it makes you seem like a self-important ass.

        • An ellipsis is perfectly acceptable in modern grammar, not just for introducing a chunk of text quotes from elsewhere. Likewise, all parentheses including brackets are entirely common. Arguing over grammar and failing is a big no-no…

          On ‘addicting’, the key element that seems to be missed is that addicting is something that happens to someone, often by another person. It’s not a true direct replacement for ‘addictive’ which is an adjective. The English language doesn’t have many if any examples of perfect replacements, as the words have their own subtle and often missed differences in meaning.

        • As BadWolf said there’s nothing grammatically incorrect about using ellipsis in a sentence. Especially when its two main uses are to either indicate a pause or to highlight a missing word/part of the sentence. So the OP used it correctly because they missed “It’s” out of the following statement and the person correcting was showing the example was missing the full quote.
          Also, brackets aren’t unconventional at all. They’re commonly used and to say they’re unconventional is, frankly, utter crap. If you were going to try coming across as smart and not look an ass you’d have just pointed out they started their second parentheses without a capital after specifically highlighting why and how capitals should be used in their first set of them.

  1. It seems like when people use addictive to describe something that is non-drug related, they are referring to a more emotional, almost cerebral attachment. When they use addicting they seem to imply a simple habitual action.

  2. Addictive: Has the potential to cause addiction.
    Addicting: Is in the process of causing addiction.

    Smoking is addictive. – Correct
    Smoking is very addictive. – Correct
    Smoking is addictive people around the world. – Incorrect

    Smoking is addicting. – Correct
    Smoking is very addicting. – Incorrect
    Smoking is addicting people around the world. – Correct

    I’m not a grammar expert or fond of the word “addicting” in general, but this is how I see it. By this definition saying “X is addicting” is technically correct, but it’s usually not what people mean. Saying “X is very addicting”, however, is totally incorrect. That would expand out to something like “X is very addicting people”, which makes no sense at all.

    • “Smoking is addicting. – Correct
      Smoking is very addicting. – Incorrect”

      IMO if the first is right the second is right. Likewise if the second is wrong, so is the first. It’s just harder to understand why.

      However, Samantha might be addicting Kimberly to smoking because smoking is addictive and she’s smoking in front of her and encouraging the behaviour.

  3. Doesn’t ‘ing’ come on the end of a verb? And ‘addict’ isn’t a verb is it? That might be why it sounds so wrong. Language evolves but for me ‘addicting’ sounds like teenage/ ignorant text speak. I’m just too old! I got A’s in English from a private Grammar School and a degree in English and sub edited at The Times (UK) but the only grammar I was ever taught was in French and Latin. I am NOT an expert.

  4. “The use of addicting in place of addictive is a common peeve among people who care but these things…” In that sentence, I’d use the word “about” instead of the word “but,” but it’s your website.

  5. I actually completely disagree! I think we should find that using ‘addictive’ is wrong when the suffixes ‘ive’ and ‘ing’ are viewed in the proper contexts (Warning, I’m about to talk out of my ass, but it makes complete sense to me and I think it will to readers who think about it):

    Generally, when an ‘ive’ adjective is used to describe something, it doesn’t always imply a verb. When it does, the subject doesn’t necessarily need an object to act upon. The adjective doesn’t rely on an object to validate the subject as such. Or at least it doesn’t need an object that responds to the verb (I’ll explain what I mean when I get to ‘ing’ adjective). So giving an example of an ‘ive’ word that doesn’t suppose a verb, we’ll say that Johnny is vindictive. There’s no verb for vindictive. The word ‘vindictive’ may imply a verb, but it’s not a root of ‘vindictive’; it’s just a quality of Johnny’s. But let’s now use an adjective that supposes a verb: Johnny is assertive. That is, Johnny asserts himself. There is an object to be had per se, but it’s very general.

    On the other hand, let’s take a closer look at ‘ing’ adjectives. Adjective ending in ‘ing’ almost always suppose a verb and a object that responds to that verb. What do I mean by this? Let’s look at the word horrifying: If we say, “the movie is horrifying,” we mean to say that it horrifies us. It generates a response in ‘us’, the object. It requires the object to do something. In order for the movie to be ‘horrifying’, an object needs to be present that responds as ‘horrified’, which is what I mean when I say that an ‘ive’ adjective doesn’t rely an an object to validate its subject as such.

    Now, there’s a small wrench in here with ‘addictive/addicting’ that creates a tug of war between the two versions when considering the guidelines I’ve given. There is no root verb for ‘addictive/addicting’, such as “to addict”, (Though some verb is implied) which would seem to give the word ‘addictive’ the win; save for one key detail: The adjective requires an responsive object to validate its subject as such. That is, if I consider a game ‘addictive/addicting’, it is because I, the object, become addicted. As such, without my addiction present, ‘addictive/addicting’ does not stand as a valid adjective for the game (Side note: Basically, if an adjective is conditional, it generally ends in ‘ing’; if it’s unconditional, it generally ends in ‘ive’). Therefore, the proper word should be ‘addicting’. I don’t call “Friday The 13th” ‘horrifyive’, so why would I call “Super Mario Bros.” addictive?

    End note: This is not to say that addictive isn’t a proper word and doesn’t have its uses. In fact, it has a perfect use: “Because the Playstation is addicting and because I have an ADDICTIVE personality, I became addicted to it.”

    I’m sorry if that’s a confusing read. I have neither the vocabulary nor the skill to condense that and explain it more simply, only an aptitude for working out how words are used and why.

    • No, sorry. ‘Addicting’ is not really a word. It was the brainchild of groups of uneducated folks who couldn’t properly form the adjective of the verb ‘to be (become) addicted’. An addict is someone who has a profound obsession with ‘x’. The addict is therefore addicted to ‘x’. “I am a television program addict.” “I am addicted to a television program.” But, you cannot say, ‘I am addicting to a television program’. A television program is not ‘addicting’. It’s ‘addictive’. When using the form ‘addicting’, you’re turning a noun into a gerund. That just doesn’t work. Here is the difference:
      I am addicted to ‘Dancing with the Stars.’
      ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is an addictive television program.
      ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is addicting’. <—NO!!
      That hurts this linguists ears, much like fingernails on a chalk board.

        • I believe it boils down to the semantics of the word. You can annoy someone because the word “annoy” is used to describe when a stimulus enacts an effect on a subject. Addiction is not an enacted effect (unless used figuratively in creative speech), it is a state in which the subject enters in relation to (but not instigated by) an entity/object.

          Personally though, I think the word originated out of the addicted subject’s desire to blame the object of addiction for their affliction. In truth, the subject, perhaps of their own subconscious volition, becomes addicted to an object. The object does not “addict” the subject.

      • You might be addicting someone to a tv show by making them watch it or talking about it a lot.

        Addicting is an action.
        Addictive is an adjective.

        It seems pretty straightforward. Just the English language allows for great understanding and acceptance of slightly wrong usage which eventually becomes accepted.

    • I don’t see where he indicated the gender of the person so in order to be perfectly correct, unless the person you are correcting indicates gender, wouldn’t it be “himself/herself”?

  6. You are only half correct to say that a helicopter ride can be “addicting”. If the word is being used in this case as an adjective then it is incorrect. If as a verb then the sentence is incomplete and the verb is being applied to an inanimate object (actually not even an object – it’s a flight).

    The only way Addicting can be accepted as a real word is if you accept that Addict can be used as a verb, i.e. “John addicts James to apples by feeding them to him every day”. this does seem to make sense.

    If you were to say “That helicopter ride addicted me”, you must follow it up with what you are being addicted to. E.g. “That helicopter ride addicted me to XXX”. One might argue that leaving out the XXX leaves the reader to naturally interpret it as “helicopter rides”. In fact, though, it could be “heights”, “fast travel”, “loud vehicles” or a number of other possibilities.

    The only way to make this statement with no ambiguity is to describe the helicopter ride as addictive. To use Addicting correctly, you would have to say “that helicopter ride was addicting me to helicopter rides”. This is a ludicrous way of making the point though when you could just use one word.

    In fact, the only time I would ever use the word “Addicting” is in a context such as: “John is addicting James to apples by feeding them to him every day”. You cannot say the apples themselves are addicting because they are clearly not ‘doing’ anything except passively being eaten. You can, however, describe them as addictive.

    Or I might be completely wrong. Who the hell knows what is right and wrong anymore, even dictionaries cannot give us consistent answers. Online dictionaries don’t even have the word gullible in them nowadays.

  7. If I had to guess, I’d say this guy definitely wrote this post to incite response. I, however, have to agree with him that using the word ‘addicting’ does have a certain air of ignorance attached to it.

  8. My question is very different from the discussions, but I am wondering how to distinguish between having the propensity to become addictive versus the propensity to become addicted, i.e. “addictive personality.” It seems to me that to have an addictive personality would mean having a personality that others can become addicted to; what do you say when you mean having a personality that has the tendency to become addicted to things?

    • Conventional wisdom is to say, ” I have an addictive personality,” although I must agree that you’ve brought up an excellent point. I never thought outside that box before! My question would be what do you say when you have a personality that others are addicted to? My brain is now spinning in circles…

    • You just completely blew my mind. I’d never thought about it until now, but you’re absolutely right. If you have an “addictive personality,” that should be defined as a personality that others become addicted to, just as an “addictive drug” is a drug that others become addicted to. It becomes even more clear when you rephrase it from “I have an addictive personality” to “I have a personality that’s addictive” (“This is an addictive drug” = “This drug is addictive”).
      I’ve just looked in a few dictionaries online, and many only list “the tendency to cause addiction” as the definition of “addictive,” though for those that do list “overly susceptible to addiction” as a second definition, every single one lists “addictive personality” as its sole example, or the first in a list of similar examples that are all just as wrong-sounding for exactly the same reason! In the other examples – “They were all addictive people” and “…widespread ignorance of the addictive mentality” – “Addictive people” should mean “people who you become addicted to” and “addictive mentality” should mean “a mentality that you become addicted to”!
      This is going to bother the hell out of me now! The definition itself is flawed because of the confusion that you’ve pointed out, and what has been seen cannot be unseen! I’m going round and round in my head trying to figure out what word you should use to describe something (e.g. a personality) that is susceptible to addiction if “addictive personality” should mean “a personality that others can become addicted to” and the only thing I’ve come up with is “addictable personality” (after thinking about words like susceptible, abusable, admirable, etc.) with my reasoning being that you’re “able to become addicted”… but that’s even worse since “addictable” definitely isn’t a word! At least in the “addictive” vs. “addicting” debate from the OP, I can agree that “addicting” is a word so long as it’s used as a transitive verb (“I’m addicting Steve to heroin by slipping him a little in his coffee every day”) and not a noun. But how do you justify “addictable”?! Smh.
      I say that we completely scrap the second definition of addictive (“overly susceptible to addiction”), kill the phrase “addictive personality” with fire, salt the earth, and never speak of this again.
      And while we’re at it, can we do the same damn thing with “literally” so that its second, informal definition is not (literally) the opposite definition of the first?!
      Ok, I need to stop.

      • You are describing a behaviour v.s. an object. The possessive nature of the verb changes. For instance one can have a ‘happy personality” or one can look at a “happy cat”.

  9. Addicting is everything wrong with the world, lower education, loss of love for language and if you want to get Orwellian about it a sign of ‘newspeak’ and the general lowering of intelligence of the general public. The worst part is other things Orwell mentioned are also happening like how we are increasingly being asked to relinquish our civil liberties in the name of freedom and security.

  10. I know it isn’t technically incorrect, but if you say “addicting” instead, it definitely makes me think of you as much less intelligent than I otherwise would.

  11. Also have to say… “addicting” sounds off because 99% of the time, what is described as “addicting” isn’t actually doing anything, thus making a verb sound horribly wrong to my ears. A video game isn’t addicting you to it, you’re addicted to it because of its qualities. Grammatically it’s fine, but logically, it’s very, very wrong.

  12. I’m pretty sure addicting means has the propensity to cause addiction and addictive means tends toward becoming addicted.

  13. It sounds stupid to me when a person says “to lazy” instead of “too lazy”. As if the person saying it is uneducated.

  14. I see an issue here. “Addict” describes a behaviour. It is not a verb hence it can’t have the suffix, “ing”. “ing” is a suffix to verbs only AFAIK. For example, one can run or be running (tenses are important). However, one can not addict hence be addicting.

  15. I believe the overuse of “addicting” when describing games has now become a marketing tactic, and theoretically it has become a meme because it’s a commonly used word “used incorrectly” – without people knowing it – as a way to refer to an awesomely fun game, but the games marketers know this and use this term to identify with an audience of those same people that use the word incorrectly – but hey it’s just a theory. It seems like most people unknowingly refer to a game as “addicting”, when that’s all they know. It’s a way to appeal to an audience of gamers who are used to the inappropriate use of the word without realising it in one respect, but identifying with it as a word used to appeal to them… hmmm hard to explain.

  16. I’ve only ever seen this silly word ‘addicting’ used in online forums over the past couple of years. No article, piece of journalism or other professional writing I’ve read has ever used it. Plus I’ve never heard it in person. People would get a long confused stare I imagine. It’s something made up online by people who want to claim they are grammatically superior. The word is ‘addictive’, always has always will be.


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