Each of the following sentences offers a choice between anxious and eager. Which is the more accurate choice in each case?

  1. Our children are (anxious / eager) to go to Disney World, but my husband and I are (anxious / eager) about the cost of the trip.
  2. Since we had heard countless reports about the sluggish stock market, we were (anxious about / eager to learn) the current market value of the stocks we purchased last year.
  3. Knowing that the stock market was bullish, we were (anxious about learning / eager to learn) the current market value of the stocks we purchased last year.

To be anxious is to be uneasy. Remember to associate anxious with the noun anxiety. To be anxious is to feel anxiety, to be worried. To be eager, on the other hand, is to be excited, to be looking forward to something with hopeful and positive anticipation that it will be good.

Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary does list each of these two words as a synonym for the other, but like any synonyms, each word bears a slightly different meaning. Webster’s clearly notes that whereas eager means “marked by enthusiastic or impatient desire or interest,” anxious “emphasizes fear of frustration or failure or disappointment.”

Thus, in sentence 1, the children would be eager (enthusiastic, perhaps even impatiently so) to go to Disney World, while their parents would be anxious (worried) about the cost of the trip.

Another way to distinguish between these words is to remember that eager is often followed by the to of an infinitive whereas anxious is often followed by a preposition, most commonly about. One is eager to do or to be something. One is anxious about something. If we are tempted to use an infinitive after the word anxious (as in “we were anxious to go on vacation”), most likely we should be using eager instead.

One’s feelings about the current market value of one’s stocks can be marked by either enthusiasm or worry, depending upon what one has recently heard about the state of the stock market. Since the writer in sentence 2 has heard reports that the market has been sluggish, he or she would use the phrase “anxious about learning” to express uneasiness and perhaps even anxiety.

In sentence 3, however, the writer would be eager to learn about a bullish market, expecting that his or her own portfolio has increased in value.

TEST YOURSELF: Which word is the better choice in each sentence?
  1. We were ___________ to find out what grade we had earned on our history exam because we had studied well and felt as though we had answered each question thoroughly.
  2. The board of directors was __________ about having to cut each department’s budget by 15 percent, for they knew that some people would lose their jobs.
  3. I was _________ about buying a new car because I was not sure I could afford one.
  4. I was _________ to buy a new car even though I was not sure I could afford one.
  5. We were ___________ concerning the plans for a new hazardous waste disposal site near our home.
ANSWERS
  1. eager
  2. anxious
  3. anxious
  4. eager
  5. anxious

Copyright 2001 Get It Write. Revised 2018.