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When to use “Leery” or “Wary,” and what’s the difference between them?

Leery is an adjective used to show that someone or something is cautious or wary of another person or thing.

Beth Taylor
Beth Taylor

What is leery?

Leery is an adjective used to show that someone or something is cautious or wary of another person or thing. You may be wondering, what’s the difference between leery and wary? Both words are very similar and can usually be used interchangeably. When you’re leery or wary of something, you may have suspicions or concerns based on real danger or slightly less rational fears. Either way, the result is the same: you have a strong feeling of distrust and therefore take extra care or caution or act more guarded around the thing you’re leery of. You may even try to avoid it altogether.

The adjective “leery” causes confusion due to the verb “leer.” To leer is to look or stare inappropriately in lustful or lecherous ways. It is a synonym of ogle and has no connection to the adjective “leery.”

Leary or leery

Leary is considered an alternative spelling of “leery,” however, this variant hasn’t been widely used for a long time and is therefore highly uncommon nowadays. It’s so unusual to come across it that many people may not even be aware of it and might consider it a typographical error. Nevertheless, board-game lovers will be pleased to know that leary is in the Scrabble dictionary. On the subject of dictionaries, leary doesn’t appear in most British dictionaries, yet it still features in American English equivalents such as the Merriam-Webster.

How to spell leery

While there are two grammatically correct ways to spell leery, the version with two Es is far more widespread and is considered the proper spelling by most people.

Leery is usually followed by the preposition “of” and then the noun or thing you’re cautious about. Similarly, it can be followed by “about.”

Leery examples

My children are pretty outgoing, but fortunately, they’re leery of strangers.
Some older people are leery of new technology as they don’t understand how it works or the risks involved.
I was bitten by a dog when I was a child and have been leery of dogs ever since.
The townspeople loved the new Mayor's charisma but were leery of his plans to build a new sports stadium.
The teacher was leery about telling her students they had failed the exam, as she didn't know how they would react.
I’m leery of airplanes because I can’t comprehend how something so large can fly.
Board members are leery of the new CEO and what he might do to the company.
It’s good to be leery of emails from strangers. They could contain computer viruses.
My new neighbors don’t seem very friendly, so I’m leery about going over to introduce myself.

Video examples:

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
The Man from Earth (2007)
Snatch (2000)
Equilibrium (2002)
EnglishIdioms & expressionsWhich is correct

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