writingtipsThe Thanksgiving Day announcement that we are to become grandparents has me facing this new year with a mix of eagerness and anxiety I’ve not experienced since my own first pregnancy.

Merriam-Webster calls eager and anxious synonyms. Although they are often used interchangeably, their meanings are slightly different. Both convey a sense of desire, looking forward, anticipation; anxious, however, includes a sense of foreboding, apprehension that is absent from eager.

We are certainly eager to join this grandparent club of which everyone we know speaks in such glowing terms. Eager conveys all the impatient expectancy and enthusiasm we’re experiencing as we wonder if this child will be a boy or girl, look like our side of the family or hers. Like our son and daughter-in-law who are excited about becoming parents, we also share some of their anxiety. There’s a degree of concern with every pregnancy: will the baby be healthy? Will the pregnancy proceed to delivery without any complications? We’re anxious i.e. concerned because we know the potential for disappointment. We choose not to dwell there, though. We’ve waited too long to join this club to let anxiety prevail.

The distinction between anxious and eager is not as strong as it was in the 17th century. The American Heritage Dictionary points to the results of a 2014 Usage Panel that shows growing acceptance for using anxious as a synonym for eager. When you want to convey a sense of eager wishfulness, anxious may be appropriate. In fact, I think I’m quite grammatically correct to say I am anxious to see our first grandchild.

A closely related pair of words with similar nuances is anticipate and expect. Both mean to look forward to. But anticipate also carries the idea of taking action in expectation or preparation for a future event, whereas expect carries more certainty and does not require action.

In anticipation of our grandchild, I’m planning to make baby quilt.

Knowing the parents’ appreciation for homemade gifts, I expect they will be happy with it.

Expecting is often used to refer to pregnancy. A couple who is planning to start a family, may anticipate being pregnant by a certain time, but once the pregnancy is certain, we talk about expecting a baby. Barring any complications, the arrival of a baby is an almost certain probability.

Expect can also mean something that is required. Now that you know the subtle distinctions between these words, I expect you’ll use them correctly.

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