'Sever' vs 'Severe': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on September 2, 2023

‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’: What’s the difference? Sometimes, adding one letter can change everything — from pronunciation to definition, to usage. But, when words look and sound similar they can be harder to tell apart. Let’s take a closer look at how to differentiate ‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’.

In a hurry? Here’s a short version of what you’ll learn:

  • ‘Sever’ is a word that means to cut or divide. 
  • ‘Severe’ is a word that means intense or harsh. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’?

Navigating a one-letter change to words can be frustrating without the proper tools, but we’re here to make it easier. We’ll focus more on pronunciation later, but here is another way to tell these words apart: their parts of speech. 

  • Parts of speech are the categories given to words that describe their syntactic function, or how they work within a sentence. 

‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’ belong to different parts of speech, so you can use that to tell them apart.

  • ‘Sever’ is a verb, meaning it is an action word. You can think of the last three letters as a clue — sever puts the ‘ver-’ in ‘verb.’
  • Meanwhile, ‘Severe’ is an adjective, meaning it is a descriptor. 

While parts of speech are helpful for differentiating the words, they don’t tell us anything about what the words mean. But, we use the spelling of the words as hints to find their meaning. 

  • ‘Severe’ has an extra “e,” and things that are extra can also be viewed as more intense, which is one meaning of the word. If we remember ‘extra “e”’ we can stay clued into the meaning. 
  • For ‘Sever,’ the letter “v” cuts the word in half and looks like a sharp object in itself. We can use this ‘slicing’ letter to remember the word means “to cut.”

Language hints are always a great starting point and can help words stick in the long run. But, to really learn a word, you need to dive deep, so let’s spend more time with each of our new words individually. 

Definition of ‘Sever’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Sever’ is a verb that means: 

  • Divide by cutting or slicing, especially suddenly or forcibly
    • “The arm was severed from the body.”
  • Put an end to a connection or relationship; break off
    • “He severed his relationship with her.”

The origin of ‘Sever’ comes from the Latinseparare’, which became ‘severer’, which we can use to remember that the word describes separation. 

Synonyms of ‘Sever’

  • Cut
  • Slice
  • Separate
  • Divide
  • Detach
  • Split
  • Disconnect
  • Abandon
  • Break off
  • Terminate
  • Dissolve

Antonyms of ‘Sever’ 

  • Attach
  • Combine
  • Connect
  • Join
  • Link
  • Unite
  • Begin
  • Marry

Phrases with ‘Sever’

  • To sever ties
  • Severed heads
  • Sever the connection

Definition of ‘Severe’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Severe’ is an adjective that means: 

  • (of something bad or undesirable) very great; intense
    • “A severe shortage of technicians.”
  • Demanding great ability, skill, or resilience
    • “A severe test of stamina.”
  • Strict or harsh
    • “The charges would have warranted a severe sentence.”
  • Very plain in style or appearance
    • “She wore another severe gray suit.”

Synonyms of ‘Severe’

  • Harsh
  • Relentless
  • Serious
  • Strict
  • Cruel
  • Stringent
  • Drastic
  • Bitter
  • Fierce
  • Intense
  • Tough
  • Violent
  • Heavy

Antonyms of ‘Severe’

  • Kind
  • Amenable
  • Calm
  • Bland
  • Dull
  • Mild
  • Gentle
  • Peaceful

Phrases with ‘Severe’

  • Severe pain
  • Severe illness
  • Their condition is severe
  • Severe penalties
  • Severely lacking

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’

Although spelled almost identically, one additional letter totally changes the pronunciations of ‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe.’ Since speaking is a major component of language, we want to ensure you feel confident saying each of these new words aloud. We also want you to be able to tell them apart when you hear them in conversation. 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Sever’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Seh-vurr’ (both vowels have a flat effect, but the second ‘e’ sound is more of a lead-up to the ‘r’ sounds)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Severe’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Seh-veer’ (in the second syllable, the ‘e’ has more emphasis, like in the word “deer”)

How to Use ‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’ in a Sentence

The final step to learning new words is actually being able to use them in real-world contexts. Sometimes, the best way to master this is by seeing the new words in action. Below, sample sentences show how the words may appear in context. 

‘Sever’ Example Sentences

  • After years of being mistreated by co-workers, she decided to leave her job and sever ties with the company. 
  • The killer threatened to sever their captive’s limbs if they did not cooperate. 
  • In some cultures, severed and shrunken heads are kept as a ritual or trade practice. 
  • After finding out he was cheating on her, she severed their relationship immediately and deleted all of their social media photos together. 

‘Severe’ Example Sentences

  • Despite being given a life sentence, the public thought the criminal deserved a more severe punishment for his crimes. 
  • The team was severely lacking in proper leadership, which resulted in many miscommunications. 
  • She had sustained pretty severe injuries and was rushed to the hospital after getting rear-ended on the freeway. 
  • His uniform consisted of a severe blue suit with a dull tie to match. 

‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’ Example Sentences

  • He thought it was a rather severe reaction to want to sever their friendship after just one argument. 
  • After severing the head of his victim, the criminal would receive a severe sentence. 

Final Advice on ‘Sever’ vs ‘Severe’

When one letter changes everything, we have to take extra care to focus on how we can use changes to keep the meanings of words separate. Remember that parts of speech and even the spelling of words can act as clues. 

Need a recap? Here’s a quick overview of what was covered:

  • ‘Sever’ is a verb that means to cut or slice, typically forcibly. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Severe’ is an adjective that means harsh, intense, or demanding great skill. 

Don’t let small changes discourage you — in fact, there are a bunch of one-letter changes in the English language that can help you unlock all kinds of new words. Want to learn more about words like these? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles to keep expanding your vocabulary and building your knowledge base. 

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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