Conscience vs Conscious: What’s the Difference?

Conscience vs. conscious? Although these words sound very similar when spoken, they have a subtle difference in how their endings sound. Aside from the spelling differences, they also have distinct definitions. “Conscious” means to be awake, alert, or in a state of awareness, while “conscience” means a person’s inner sense or mental awareness.

What Is Conscience?

“Conscience” is a noun that was originally derived from the Latin word conscientia, which roughly means shared knowledge among one or more individuals. The word descended through Late Latin into Middle English and came to mean a shared understanding of wrong and then a personal knowledge of right and wrong. 

So, what does conscience mean? The modern meaning of “conscience” has expanded from the inner feeling or inner voice of right and wrong to include moral understanding or moral sense between fairness and justice. Here are some example sentences: 

Examples 

  • I have a clear conscience. 
  • Mary’s conscience is troubling her because she lied to my mother about why she was late.
  • Do politicians even have a good conscience?
  • She tried to ease her guilty conscience by donating to worthy causes.

What Is Conscious?

The word “conscious” (KAHN-shuhs) has the exact origin of “conscience.” Both are derived from the Latin word conscientia, as explained above. 

The two concepts were intertwined as being related to shared or personal knowledge, and conscious vs. conscience had little differentiation in common usage. 

By the 1630s, “conscious” had evolved away from the concepts of right and wrong. It had come to mean an inner awareness of oneself. It was in the 1830s that it took on the more modern medical meaning of being awake and aware. 

For instance, a conscious person can be aware of their surroundings. 

Examples

  • The patient in bed 3 is now conscious.
  • He was very conscious of his open fly.
  • It always takes me some time to become fully conscious in the morning.

What Is Conscientious?

“Conscientious” is an adjective that means a desire to do things right. It is a personality trait that means the opposite of being a lazy slacker. It is most commonly applied to the workplace, where conscientious workers are highly prized.

The word “conscientious” was derived from the word ‘conscience’ in the 1610s. It was originally an adjective used to describe things related to right and wrong and matters related to the conscience. 

Then, it gradually evolved into its current meaning as a personality trait in the late 1880s. It was most obviously exemplified by the widespread use of the term “conscientious objector.” 

Examples 

  • Sally was very conscientious at work, attending closely to every detail to ensure the final product was perfect.
  • My grandfather was a conscientious objector and refused to fight after being drafted.
  • You will only get far in this career if you are a conscientious worker.
  • I am a conscientious student. 

What’s the Difference: Conscience vs. Conscious vs. Conscientious?

picture showing the definition of conscience and conscious

Conscious and conscientious are adjectives, meaning they are words used to describe the traits of a person. Conscience, however, is a noun. It is a part of you, like your arm or foot. 

Conscious means to be awake and aware, while conscientious means a desire to do what is right. 

The difference between conscious and consciousness is the former is an adjective and the latter is a noun, both referring to being awake and aware (she regained consciousness after surgery vs. she was conscious after surgery). 

Meanwhile, the difference between conscience and consciousness is that the former refers to a sense of right and wrong. In contrast, the latter refers to being awake and aware (Her conscience was troubling her, vs. She regained consciousness after surgery). 

On the other hand, the difference between conscientiousness and consciousness is that the former is an adjective meaning it is a personality trait, while the latter is a noun, the name of your collective thoughts, feelings, and memories.  

Tricks to Remembering the Differences

If you are having trouble keeping these similar words straight, you are not alone. Here are some tips. 

  • Conscience vs. conscious: My conscience can only trouble me when I am conscious. 
  • Conscience vs. conscientious: I am conscientious because of my conscience. 
  • Conscious vs. conscientious: I am conscientious about not drinking too much because I want to remain conscious.

Final Thoughts

These words were all derived from the same Latin root, which explains their similarity. 

Consciousness and conscience are nouns, things that you have. Conscious and conscientious are adjectives used to describe what you are like. 

If it has an “ie” in it, think of “lie” because these words (conscience, conscientious) refer to right and wrong. If it ends in “ous,” it is an adjective, traits you might have (conscious, conscientious).


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