Ashamed or Embarrassed: Which One Should I Use?

“Ashamed” or “Embarrassed”: Which One Should I Use?

Today, we’re going to get clear about the difference between ashamed or embarrassed. While you’re here, check out these 17 Free English Lessons: Best of Clark and Miller 2017.

Should I say ‘ashamed’ or ’embarrassed’? This is a question I hear a lot from my students.

Do you know the difference?

I mean, do you really know the difference?

Let’s check it out!

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What does “embarrassed” mean?

I’m going to give you a classic example from my own childhood.

My dad’s green shorts.

When I was a teenager, we went on holiday for a couple of weeks in the south of France.

It was fun!

The weather was great. The food was awesome. The countryside was beautiful, and the towns we visited were full of culture and pretty churches and all the stuff that you’d want from a holiday in the south of France.

Castle with road and hills
Not my actual photo.

Everything was great.

Except for one thing.

My dad’s green shorts.

He insisted on wearing them every day.

They were bright green and much smaller than they should’ve been considering he was in his 50s at the time.

Green running shorts
The stuff of nightmares. image

Eventually, while my dad was still in his pyjamas one morning, I hid the shorts under the stairs.

Why did I do that?

Because every time we went out as a family, I was completely embarrassed. The green shorts were killing me! With embarrassment.

Embarrassed: when you’re uncomfortable because you think that other people think you’re weird, are laughing at you or look down on you — perhaps because of something you did. Or perhaps because of something your friend, colleague (or dad) did.

What does “ashamed” mean?

Here’s Georgie.

Woman with red hair

Georgie an awesome woman. We like Georgie.

One day you’re hanging out with Georgie and you decide to go to the cinema.

You live in a small town, and the only cinema in town just has two screens.

On screen 1 is “Ninja Rabbits,” a new film from Mongolia. Apparently, it’s absolutely awesome, and everyone who’s seen it has talked about how great it is.

On screen 2 is a documentary on how tablecloths are made.

So, of course, you want to see “Ninja Rabbits,” right?

Sure, it’s in Mongolian, but there are subtitles. So that’s fine. Plus, there are ninja rabbits.

But Georgie doesn’t want to see it.

You try to persuade her. But she’s just saying no.

You don’t know why because she really loves ninjas. And rabbits.

Until she finally admits it:

She can’t read.

Then she looks like this:

Ashamed woman

Why didn’t she want to tell you that she couldn’t read?

That wasn’t embarrassment — that was because she was ashamed.

Ashamed is when you feel terrible because of something you did (or that you didn’t do) because you didn’t meet the standards you set for yourself.

Should I use “ashamed” or “embarrassed”?

The main difference between these words is that “embarrassed” is about what other people think of you, while “ashamed” is more about what you think of yourself.

That’s why you can never feel embarrassed when you’re alone.

Being embarrassed could be about something you did (like when you called your teacher “dad” in the middle of a lesson — don’t deny it!).

But it could also be about something someone else did (like when your best friend started singing Abba songs at the top of his voice in the middle of the busy park. Why did he do that?).

Being ashamed, however, is something personal. It’s often related to feeling guilty.

So next time you’re looking for the right word, ask yourself this question:

Who made you feel this way: other people or yourself?

If it’s other people, then you’re probably embarrassed.

If it’s you, then you’re probably ashamed.

Do you dare share your embarrassing stories? Let me know in the comments if you feel brave enough!

Did you find this useful? Do you know any people (or bears) that might also benefit from this? Then BE AWESOME AND SHARE! Spread the knowledge!

8 thoughts on “Ashamed or Embarrassed: Which One Should I Use?

  1. Once I was shopping in a supermarket in my headphones (to avoid random noise, as usual) when I got the feeling of having a lump in my throat. I closed my eyes not to shed tears and, naturally, stopped in the middle of a pathway with my pushcart. A hundred voices trailed off into silence and everyone turned to stare at me. And only David Shaw-Parker was about to end reading “In Flanders Fields” (from Not After Dark) by Peter Robinson…
    Well, that was my little stand-up. Sort of. The briefest in the World. I think.
    Moral: never appear in public with an untested stuff. 🙂

  2. Today I went to a family gathering held at my mother-in-laws. My sister, dad, dad’s girlfriend and a few of my husband’s family. There was also a young neighbor dog walking around trying to pick up any scraps of food she could find. Someone had brought pizza a few hours after the bbq. Everyone had gotten a piece. Since I didn’t eat much of the bbq I decided to have a slice noticing that I grabbed the last one. I took a bite and it’s was good. It was really good. It may have been mildly cold but the flavor the cheese the grease mmmm. I’m smacking on this delicious last pizza slice, when suddenly my father grabs the pizza out of my hand, takes a bite and throws it to the ground for the dog. My dad’s girlfriend said why would you throw her pizza. I had felt eyes on me.
    Am I ashamed. Am I embarrassed. Am I neither?

    1. Haha! That’s a really funny story, Sam.

      So if I understand correctly, you step-dad grabbed the pizza slice and threw it to the dog in order to embarrass you?

      If so, then you need to plan some revenge!

      I’d say, because you know that you didn’t throw the pizza to the dog, then you can’t really be ashamed. Being ashamed is a more internal thing based on your own actions and your own abilities. But it certainly looks like an embarrassing situation: even though you didn’t do it, everyone thinks you did.

      Hope that helps!

  3. “That’s why you can never feel embarrassed when you’re alone.” This is false. Once someone sent me a text message and what they asked in the text embarrassed me. I was alone when I read it.

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