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?

7 Answers 7


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.

  • 1
    nobody would say in spoken language "страшный мужчина" to express "ugly" just because it is not a fixed expression. in writings "cтрашность" will be explained several times and only this makes such usage possible. it depends on context. but e.g. "страшный ребенок" get context immediately - this is ugly, because child can't be dangerous for you. Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 2:05

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
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 11:00
  • yes, Quassnoi mentioned it in his answer Commented Dec 4, 2018 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
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 10:28
  • "Бу" - это хомячок-фамильяр из Годвилля :-D
    – Arioch
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 10:47

The accepted answer is incorrect.

"страшная(ый) женщина/ребенок" and "страшный(ая) мужчина/человек/собака" are different colored expressions.

Used with "man" it describes the personality, used with "woman" or "child" it describes only appearance.

There are also transitional cases like "страшная баба".

And all can be changed by context.

There is logic in this scale: "the object" set danger limits for you. And if there is no real danger - e.g. in case of child - that means "страшный" is only about appearance. If there is a real danger for you - "is she/he ugly" - is not interesting.

"Она страшная женщина" - if you are talking about your professor, and we know that you depend on her, turns this phrase to "she is terrible/dangerous person".


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

  • However that was propaganda. The correct translation for Грозный should be something like "fearsome"
    – Arioch
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 9:04

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