The prefixes ‘aff’ and ‘in’ make a world of difference to the meaning of these two words. It is all a question of point of view. If one inflicts pain upon someone else, the victim is afflicted by pain.
The verb ‘afflict’ means ‘to affect in a negative way’. It is most often used in the passive, as in the sentence:
‘The workforce was afflicted by an outbreak of cholera’.
It can sometimes be used as an active verb, as seen in the following sentence:
‘Cholera afflicts people who are susceptible, like the elderly and young children’.
It is, however, rare for the verb ‘afflict’ to be used in any way other than in the passive. Whenever it is used actively, it is simply that the negative impact (in this case, cholera) is put before the verb rather than after it.
The noun ‘affliction’ means a state of distress, illness, misery or great hardship. It refers to a situation which is so unpleasant and unfortunate that it is emotionally difficult to bear. As it is quite an old-fashioned word, it is now often used in a sarcastic or ironic way, as in the sentence:
‘We missed out on tickets to Glastonbury. Please sympathise with us in our affliction.’
To inflict is to impose or cause suffering, pain or something unpleasant. It can also mean imposing something which is un-wanted or unwelcome, like an opinion, upon somebody else.
The word ‘inflict’ is often used in the context of punishment or physical bodily harm, as in the sentence:
‘The attackers inflicted life-changing injuries upon the victim’.
The verb ‘inflict’ must always take an object. Its noun version, ‘infliction’, simply means the act of inflicting.
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