'Wary' or 'Weary': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 20, 2023

‘Wary’ or ‘Weary’: What’s the Difference? A classic example of how just one letter can cause confusion and make totally different words. The similarity in both spelling and pronunciation of these words can make them hard to distinguish, but this article can help. 

In a rush? Here’s a short preview of what’s to come: 

  • ‘Wary’ is a word that means cautious or suspicious. 
  • ‘Weary’ is a word that means tired or reluctant towards something. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary’?

Obviously, one of these words has an extra “e” in there, but spelling aside, these words are often confused because of their meanings. They both give off a sense of hesitation and sluggishness, but they are just different enough to be used in different contexts. 

Both of these new words are adjectives that describe a bit of pause taken before embarking on an action, but what we need to pay attention to is the motive behind the pause. 

  • If the pause is driven by suspicion or mistrust, ‘Wary’ is your word. But, if the pause is guided by sloth and exhaustion, ‘Weary’ is the way to go. 

Another thing that can cause confusion with these words is that they often are set up in the same general phrase: “to grow wary of” and “to grow weary of.” Given that this phrase is appropriate to use with both words, many people (especially while speaking) will zoom right through and use the words interchangeably. 

  • ‘Wary’ and ‘Weary’ are not, however, interchangeable, and using the wrong word will result in a different meaning. 

Words like ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary’ are not as commonly used in everyday conversations in this age, but they do still appear, especially in books and movies. For writers and creatives alike, knowing how to distinguish between these words properly is important — so let’s dive deeper into these new words. 

Definition of ‘Wary’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • Feeling or showing caution about possible danger or problems
    • “Dogs that have been mistreated often remain very wary of strangers.”

‘Wary’ comes from the Old English root ‘ware,’ which means “cautiousness.” This might look familiar when we consider words like “beware,” which is often said as a warning. 

  • Seeing ‘Wary’ as related to “beware” can be a helpful trick to remembering this word means cautious. 

Synonyms of ‘Wary’

  • Careful
  • Cautious
  • Attentive
  • Distrustful
  • Frugal
  • Leery
  • Suspicious
  • Vigilant
  • Watchful
  • Guarded

Antonyms of ‘Wary’

  • Careless
  • Certain
  • Inattentive
  • Inconsiderate
  • Indiscreet
  • Negligent 
  • Incautious
  • Reckless
  • Heedless

Phrases with ‘Wary’

  • Be wary of 
  • A wary look
  • Keep a wary eye out
  • Wary expression

Definition of ‘Weary’: What Does it Mean?

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

  • Feeling or showing tiredness, especially as a result of excessive exertion or lack of sleep
    • “He gave a long, weary sigh.”
  • Reluctant to see or experience any more of; tired of
    • “She was weary of their constant arguments.” 
  • Calling for a great amount of energy or endurance, tiring and tedious,

As a verb, ‘Weary’ can also mean: 

  • Cause to become tired
    • “She was wearied by her persistent cough.”
  • Grow tired of or bored with
    • “He wearied of the sameness of his life.”

Synonyms of ‘Weary’

  • Bored
  • Tired
  • Exhausted
  • Disgusted
  • Fatigued
  • Jaded 
  • Overworked
  • Sleepy
  • Disheartened

Antonyms of ‘Weary’

  • Animated
  • Energetic
  • Fresh
  • Lively 
  • Excited
  • Invigorated
  • Energized

Phrases with ‘Weary’

  • Feeling weary
  • To grow weary
  • Weary traveler
  • Weary heart
  • Weary sigh
  • The poor and weary

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary’

The pronunciation of these words is perhaps what causes the most confusion, given that in some dialects and accents, they can sound almost identical. Properly emphasizing the right vowel in each word will be the key to distinguishing the two. When you’re speaking in a rush or in a more casual conversation, we don’t always think about annunciating, but be sure to do it with ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary.’ A bit nervous? Don’t be. Let us help you take a look at these pronunciations. 

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

  • ‘Wair-ee’ (the “a” is the focus vowel in this word, and it sounds the same as in ‘share’)

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

  • ‘Weer-ee’ (now here, the “e” is the focus vowel, with both vowels being the long “ee”)

How to Use ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary’ in a Sentence

The mildly frustrating thing about these two words is they could replace each other in the exact same sentence and totally change the meaning and connotation.

Let’s look at an example: 

  • “She was weary of their constant arguments.” Here the woman is tired of the argument but does not suspect anything. What we see is what we get. 
  • But if we have “She was wary of their constant arguments,” the woman is suspicious of the consistency or frequency of the arguments. This serves the connotation that something deeper is implied, like perhaps a change in a relationship. 

Knowing that these two words can appear in the same place is important, but also not the only time you’ll ever see either of these words. Using real-world examples to give context to definitions is one of the best ways to learn vocabulary, so let’s take a look at some example sentences. 

‘Wary’ Example Sentences

  • When walking home alone, she grew wary of the man following a couple of steps behind her. 
  • His expression became wary when his daughter mentioned going to a party later. 
  • Folks who suffer from trauma or PTSD are often wary of crowds and loud spaces. 
  • The kindergartener was wary of walking into a class of new people all alone. 

‘Weary’ Example Sentences

  • After a long day voyaging at sea, the captain grew weary of another day on the ocean. 
  • She had been wearied by the constant lack of communication in her relationship. 
  • He grew weary of taking on extra shifts at work just to get the bills paid. 
  • The friends let out a weary sigh as they trekked through the woods, hoping to find the trail again. 

Final Advice on ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary’

Rushing through our words is human nature, but it can also cause lots of linguistic mixups. Knowing when to use words like ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary’ will help you navigate context but will also help remind you to slow down and be conscious about the way you speak. Clearly, as we’ve seen, one letter can change everything, so although we’re hardwired for language shortcuts, we can never be too careful.

Want a recap? Here’s a little overview of what we covered:

  • ‘Wary’ is an adjective that signifies a sense of suspicion or pause, 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Weary’ is an adjective that signifies a sense of tiredness or boredom. 
  • Both words are often rushed through when pronounced and confused as being one and the same — but be sure to refer back to this article to know that they are very different. 

Words that look and sound the same can be very frustrating, and there is certainly no shortage of other confusing words, just as ‘Wary’ or ‘Weary.’ But, the more you study and dedicate time to the smaller differences, you’ll notice the big differences in your learning progress.

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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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