Childish vs. childlike

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Childish and childlike (each one word, unhyphenated) have roughly the same definition—of, like, or related to a child or childhood—but childish has negative connotations, and childlike usually does not. Childish is often synonymous with words like infantile, immature, silly, juvenile, and foolish, all of which are usually negative. Childlike is closer to words like innocent, trusting, unfeigned, and pure, which are not negative.


For example, these writers use childish as a negative term:

Compared to their taped performances up to now, the judges seemed less astute and more childish, with Aguilera being the worst offender. [USA Today]

The childish bickering between the Tory and Labour Treasury teams continues. [Evening Standard]

Those not capable of seeing beyond the childish ”deficit bad, surplus good” chant of the federal opposition. [Sydney Morning Herald]

And in these examples, childlike is neutral or positive:

Happily free of all fashionable urban cynicism or irony, her illustrations have a childlike optimism. [National Post]

Though he can be rigorous to the point of obsessive, he also has a childlike sense of wonder. [Los Angeles Times]

This “burrowing” element helps explain the childlike nature of our affection for the Tube. [Telegraph]

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