Difference Between Shame and Embarrassment

The words shame and embarrassment are sometimes used interchangeably without much concern especially in spoken or verbal English, however, there is a lot of difference between both the words and their usage in written and verbal English.


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It is true that in some given contexts, shame and embarrassment can be interchanged but as two independent words, they simply mean different emotions.

This article will help you understand the proper usage and meaning of both these commonly used words.

This article highlights the differences and meanings of both the terms and helps you understand the requirement of both using examples and a descriptive table.

Shame vs Embarrassment

The difference between shame and embarrassment is that shame is shown to have originated from an archaic term that meant “to conceal.” As a result, the word shame translates to “covering yourself.” It is a human feeling that is nearly uncontrollable whereas embarrassment is an emotion that describes your uncomfort and social awkwardness in a situation or phase. Although embarrassment can cause shame, the opposite simply delivers the wrong meaning to the statement.

Shame vs Embarrassment

The meaning of the word ‘shame’ according to the Oxford English dictionary is ‘a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior’ and ‘sad or regretful circumstance or behavior’.

According to ancient meanings, shame has always been used as the emotion to conceal or hide from the masses or any situation due to self-realization or guilt.

The word itself has a lot of emotional magnitudes and describes the situation or mindset to be uncomfortable due to self-action and guilt or mistakes.

When speaking of the term ‘embarrassment’, it is very much used colloquially as this term describes many of our life’s situations perfectly like; “ The crowd looked and laughed at me as passed by, it was funny but I was very embarrassed”, this sentence describes that embarrassment not necessarily has to do with something negative or realizations like guilt.

An embarrassment can occur for various reasons commonly converging to the definite meaning of uncomfortable and social awkwardness. Due to some misinterpretations and similarities, it is often confused with the terms ‘shy’ and ‘shame’.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonShameEmbarrassment
MeaningThe word shame clearly translates to “covering yourself.” It is a human feeling that is nearly uncontrollable.A feeling of self-consciousness or social awkwardness that causes situational awkwardness.
EtymologyOld English sc(e)amu (noun), sc(e)amian ‘feel shame’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch schamen (verb).early 17th century in embarrass from French embarrasser, from Spanish embarazar.
OriginThe word shame has been used since the start of Old and Latin English.It has derived from the term embarrass which is a relatively newer word in Latin English.
PronunciationIt is pronounced as “shaym”It is pronounced as “uhm·ba·ruhs·muhnt”
ExampleIt is a shame that the bar next street got shut down.
Shame is caused by the guilt inside you.
Embarrassment caused me to quit the dance.
She was flushed by embarrassment.

What is Shame?

The Oxford English vocabulary defines shame as an unpleasant sense of embarrassment or sorrow induced by the awareness of incorrect or stupid behavior, as well as, a sad or remorseful event or behavior.

Shame is often used to cover or hide from the people or any circumstance due to self-realization or remorse, according to ancient definitions.

It is also prone to experiencing both shame and humiliation at the same time, especially in circumstances when one is discovered presenting wrong info or lying about something that is based on facts or is decisively true.

External circumstances, such as individuals, might cause someone to feel ashamed, whether or not they are aware of it.

In a more usual scenario, someone could be put in a state of humiliation and shame by their acts or words, which is referred to as “to shame.”

Furthermore, “carrying a sense of shame” does not necessarily mean “being conscious of one’s guilt”, it is necessary to understand that ‘shaming’ another person is an act of creating hatred and humiliation which results in consequences.

The term ‘shame’ holds deep meaning and hence cannot be confused with a neighboring term ‘embarrassment’.

The colloquial usage of this term is very common and as mentioned earlier, this is a word that describes the unexplainable yet uncomfortable situations we face in our daily lives.


What is Embarrassment?

Embarrassment is a feeling which a person has if he or she perceives that what he or she has done is not culturally or socially acceptable in an un-strict manner.

Based on the situation, it entails a certain amount of loss of dignity and an increase in awkwardness.

Embarrassment and shame are remarkably similar, but they have two different characteristics: shame can originate from an individual’s actions that are solely understood and comprehended to yourself, but embarrassment does not.

Additionally, shame is the outcome of socially inappropriate conduct, even if it is not ethically reprehensible.

Unlike shame, embarrassment may not always be self-inflicted, but guilt, apart from circumstances when it is objectively ‘assigned,’ is virtually always self-inflicted.

Embarrassment could be a highly personal feeling, relating to someone’s nature, as in situations when unwelcome scrutiny, or just too often, in one’s private issues has resulted in embarrassment.

People with superior complexity and who believe they are perfect can undergo this embarrassment phase at some point in their life and can be lethal indeed.

Reports show that many people have a fear or phobia of embarrassment that resulted in them becoming antisocial and unsociable humans in their daily life.


Main Differences between Shame and Embarrassment

  1. Shame translates to “covering yourself”, it is a human feeling that is nearly uncontrollable whereas embarrassment is a feeling of self-consciousness or social awkwardness
  2. Synonyms of shame include humiliation, ignominy and chagrin whereas synonyms of embarrassment include awkwardness, self consciousness and discomfort.
  3. Shame is not a subjective or personality-dependent trait but embarrassment is a subjective and personality-based trait.
  4. Shame can be self-inflicted like guilt and doing something stupid but embarrassment can occur due to the public and masses.
  5. Shame is something that occurs when you do something that is socially forbidden or unacceptable but embarrassment can be caused by social awkwardness.
Difference Between Shame and Embarrassment


  1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-scientific-underpinnings-and-impacts-of-shame/
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/embarrassment
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