Using Conscience vs Conscious

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

Are you conscious that you have a conscience? These two similarly sounding words confuse many readers and writers, but this lesson will explain when to use the adjective conscious and the noun conscience.

Conscious Conscience

Is your conscience bothering you? Or is it your conscious? Are you conscious of the decision you are making? Or are you conscience?

These two similarly spelled and sounding words often get confused for each other, but are very different. They have different meanings, but also are different parts of speech. A word's part of speech describes the function it plays in a sentence. Conscious is an adjective, or describing word, while conscience is a noun, a word that refers to a person place or thing. Let's take a look at the meaning of these two words now.

Are You Conscious?

Let's start with conscious. As was already mentioned, this word is an adjective, which is a word that describes or modifies a noun. So, what does conscious describe? It actually has a couple different, but related meanings.

In its most literal sense, conscious means to be awake. It is the opposite of unconscious, which describes someone who has passed out or been knocked out:

  • The patient was conscious again after the drugs wore off.
  • The boxer was hit so hard that the crowd was surprised he was still conscious.

But conscious can also mean awake and aware in a more metaphorical sense, referring to someone who knows something or makes a deliberate, informed decision:

  • John was conscious of the problem and quickly trying to fix it.
  • Mary made a conscious decision to wait two days before calling Zach back.

And a third meaning can refer to someone who is too aware of and worried about something, as in the term 'self-conscious,' which refers to someone who is too worried about how they appear to other:

  • Susan was painfully conscious of the large pimple on her chin.
  • In Mexico, Joe was very conscious of his lack of Spanish skills.

Mind Your Conscience

So, if conscious is an adjective that describes a noun, conscience is a noun itself, which is a word that refers to a person, place, or thing. But conscience is a bit of a weird noun, because it is not a thing we can see or touch.

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