Today I wanted to tell a Russian friend that a certain person was a terrible woman (in the sense that she is a very unpleasant person). I said, "Она страшная женщина". But my friend told me that I used the word "страшная" erroneously.

I wasn't able to understand what was wrong with my use of the word, but I got the impression that "ужасная" would have been a better word.

I've consulted a couple of dictionaries, but they haven't helped. They merely say that "страшный" and "ужасный" both mean "terrible".

So what's wrong with using the word "страшный" to indicate that somebody is horrible?

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Страшная женщина and страшный мужчина mean "ugly". Those words don't describe personality in any way, just the physical appearance.

When you want to describe personality, you should use the word человек.

Страшный человек does describe the personality, however, its usage is different from English "terrible person". The Russian phrase means "terrifying person": a murderer, a violent criminal, things like that.

Ужасный человек is closer in meaning to English "terrible person" and is actually used in Russian in this sense, however other words like скверный, нехороший etc. are used more widely to describe personality.

I wouldn't label this use erroneous, rather ironic. The reason being conventions of usage. Certain allusions may accrete to words and shape their connotations.

Indeed in your situation more appropriate adjectives would be ужасная, кошмарная, and if you don't mind sounding ornate and grandiose - чудовищная

Because in Russian describing a person as страшный, besides ugly may mean dangerous, evil as in the expression страшный человек, which to my understanding are not the qualities ordinarily attributed to a person with a terrible, annoying personality, although Иван Грозный is named Ivan The Terrible in English.

I guess one may liken this distinction to that between the English scary and terrible. Wishing to tell how terrible a person is an Anglophone wouldn't use the adjective scary and if they did, that'd probably sound ironic as well.

  • English also has the word "terrifying", which is used to describe people with, well, terrifying personalities. – Joker_vD Dec 4 at 11:00
  • yes, Quassnoi mentioned it in his answer – Баян Купи-ка Dec 4 at 11:21

You are not wrong to use страшная, but it also has a second meaning of ugly. Without proper context, your interlocutor may understand this woman to be simply not beautiful enough, putting it mildly. This is particularly important if you drop женщина and simply say "она страшная". Even with proper context, this can be misinterpreted as referring to her physical looks.

There's also a noun that is linked to this adjective -- страшила or страшилище.

Ужасная doesn't have this second meaning. Applied to someone as a whole, it would imply bad character. Applied to parts of the body, it can acquire the 2nd meaning of страшная and imply something is wrong with the looks. For example, ужасная причёска -- visually bad haircut. Or ужасное лицо -- terrible face. Ужасное лицо would most likely mean that it's not an inherently ugly face, but that something has happened to it. Bad acne, for example.

You have made my... week, I believe. ))))) Really, I can't imagine a чудовищная женщина, neither can I think of a чудовищный мужчина.

Страшная женщина can be used also instead of страшный человек, denoting a cruel or cynic person, if the person is female, as человек is masculine though general. But this is more colloquial and may be ironic.

When a woman is ugly/she is concidered ugly/she thinks she is ugly, the words страшная and страшненькая are used. And страшненькая is sure to denote the appearance. Ужасная женщина is an extremely unpleasant woman. This epithet is very emotional, and in this case the expression "страшная женщина" can be used ironically and pronounced in a gravy voice. :) To make it sure you do it on purpose and for emphasis.

Just an unpleasant woman will be неприятная женщина.

And in the seamingly oxymoronic phrase страшная красавица another meaning of the word страшный is revealed. It is a colloquial phrase, and it means "extremely beautiful", like "ужасно хочу есть" means "I'm terribly hungry".

Страшный человек

Красота - страшная сила

Ещё один вариант, который пока не приводили.

"Пугающая женщина" - literary, fear-instilling woman.

  • Такая - "Бу!!!" – shabunc yesterday
  • "Бу" - это хомячок-фамильяр из Годвилля :-D – Arioch yesterday

Ужасный is it.:) or Грозный, ifabout the Ivan the 4th

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  • However that was propaganda. The correct translation for Грозный should be something like "fearsome" – Arioch yesterday

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