Bereaved vs. bereft

Bereft and bereaved are both past-tense and past-participial inflections of the verb bereave, which means to leave desolate or alone, especially by death. By convention, bereaved is appropriate in reference to someone who has lost a loved one by death, and bereft is better in reference to other types of losses. For example, one might be bereft of one’s house after a hurricane. In this sense, bereft carries connotations that the uninflected bereave has lost; the uninflected form almost always refers to relates to deaths of loved ones.


In these examples, bereaved refers to someone who has lost a loved one by death:

Despite the prevailing sorrow, visitors might gather around platters of food in a bereaved family’s home and celebrate a long life. [Forbes]

The way we treat our bereaved Armed Forces families speaks volumes about us as a nation.  [Telegraph]

The government would also make a financial contribution to the families of the bereaved, to cover funeral expenses. [Herald Sun]

And in these sentences, bereft refers to other types of losses:

And how this city, for reasons that can never be completely explained, has been so bereft of sporting stars of the highest calibre. [Toronto Sun]

Having faded into obscurity at 40, bereft of even a single butler to send to the bread line, Fitzgerald wrote his most well-known essay from a rented room in a cheap hotel. [Wall Street Journal]

Short of money, the regime is also bereft of friends. [Financial Times]

1 thought on “Bereaved vs. bereft”

  1. Is the example from Herald Sun correct?Shouldn’t a contribution to the “Families of the Bereaved” be simply the bereaved, or the bereaved families. As it stands it sounds like the families of the families of the lost person, since bereaved refers to the person who suffered the loss.


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