'Famous' or 'Infamous': What's the Difference?

By Shanea Patterson, updated on November 3, 2022

Struggling with whether to use the term ‘famous’ or ‘infamous’? A lot of people confuse the terms or use them interchangeably. But the terms mean two slightly different things.

‘Famous’ means known and recognized by many people. 

‘Infamous’ means well-known for something bad. 

Difference Between Famous and Infamous

As we just mentioned, 'famous' and 'infamous' mean two different things, similar to words that look and/or sound the same, such as bear and bare, unto and onto, and weather, whether, and wether.

Let’s talk about the difference between 'famous' and 'infamous.'

Famous Or Infamous

So, how do you use both words correctly? Before we dive in, let’s look at each word's definition and meaning, as well as a few synonyms.

Definition and Meaning

Learning the difference between ‘famous’ and ‘infamous’ is essential to use them both correctly. Let’s take a look at the definition of both words. 

Definition of Famous

The Cambridge definition of 'famous' is “known and recognized by many people.”

The Merriam-Webster definition is “widely known” or “honored for achievement.”

It also means “excellent, first-rate.”

Some synonyms include:

  • Big-Name
  • Famed
  • Celebrated
  • Noted
  • Visible
  • Star
  • Prominent
  • Renowned
  • Well-Known

Definition of Infamous 

The Merriam-Webster definition of ‘infamous’ is “having a reputation of the worst kind: notoriously evil,” “causing or bringing infamy: disgraceful,” and “convicted of an offense bringing infamy."

The Cambridge definition is “famous for something considered bad.”

Synonyms for the word include:

  • Disgraceful
  • Discreditable
  • Disreputable
  • Unrespectable
  • Shameful
  • Shady
  • Notorious

Using ‘Famous’ and ‘Infamous’ in Sentences 

So, it’s clear there’s a difference between the words, so you know not to use them interchangeably. Let’s talk about how to use both words in a sentence correctly.

Take a look at some examples of how to use ‘famous’ in a sentence:

  • Britney Spears is one of my favorite singers from the early 2000s.
  • I would never want to be a famous singer; it’s way too much pressure.
  • My brother got Tik Tok famous last year with his viral video.
  • Lizzo and SZA got famous later on in their lives – unlike Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

Now, here are some examples of how to use ‘infamous’ in a sentence:

  • Charles Manson is one of the most infamous serial killers of all time.
  • Lori Loughlin’s infamous college admissions scandal got her unwanted attention from the whole world.
  • Jussie Smollett became infamous when he faked a hate crime.
  • Casey Anthony became one of the world’s most infamous mothers for killing her daughter.

Final Thoughts on ‘Famous’ or ‘Infamous’

When trying to remember which word to use, think about the fact that celebrities (Beyonce) are ‘famous’ and serial killers (Charles Manson) are ‘infamous.’

Of course, some celebrities can also be infamous or known for doing something bad (i.e., Chris Brown, Lindsay Lohan, etc.). But they’re usually not as infamous as…you know, serial killers.

Of course, it doesn’t take committing a heinous crime to be infamous. You really just have to be viewed negatively by a large group of unapproving people for something you’ve done. Even then, you might not be seen as infamous so much as what you did to become infamous. It all depends on the severity of the event.

In closing, using both words in a sentence shouldn't be too hard with the above information in mind. But if you ever do get stuck, you can always come back here to WritingTips.org and browse our library of confusing words, which covers confusing words and phrases like 'double check' and 'apportion/portion/proportion.'

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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