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Incredible and Incredulous

Commonly Confused Words

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The adjective incredible means unbelievable or hard to believe. Incredible often applies to statements, actions, or events. In informal usage, incredible can also mean amazing or surprising.

The adjective incredulous means skeptical or expressive of disbelief. Incredulous applies to people and their attitudes.

Also see: Credible, Creditable, and Credulous.

Examples

  • "All men are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened." (Maya Angelou)

  • "It may not be amiss to add, for the benefit of incredulous readers, that all the 'improbable events' in the story are matters of fact, taken from the printed narrative." (Wilkie Collins)

  • "Fame would result from the ensuing exposure. 'And out of that exposure could come incredible opportunities,' he said. 'Movie options, research contracts . . ..'

    "I must have looked incredulous. (I was incredulous.)"
    (Jennifer Egan, Look at Me, 2001)

The Lighter Side of Incredible and Incredulous

"'Just before I left home this afternoon, a letter arrived for Tom from Sir Watkyn Bassett. . . [D]o you know what was in it?'

"'What?'

"'It contained an offer to swap the cow-creamer for Anatole, and Tom is seriously considering it!'

"I stared at her.

"'What? Incredulous!'

"'Incredible, sir.'

"'Thank you, Jeeves. Incredible!'"
(P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters, 1938)


Practice
(a) "The world is divided into two classes, those who believe the _____, and those who do the improbable." (Oscar Wilde)

(b) When we first saw the reports of Hurricane Katrina on the news, we were _____.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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