Condescending or Patronizing? What’s the Difference?

There are times when people act superior to others and there are two words to describe this behavior in English: condescending and patronizing. “Condescending” deliberately airs superiority without apology or sympathy. “Patronizing” pretends support, kindness, or sympathy, but it’s a cover for actual feelings of superiority.

Even though both words carry the same connotation, there are nuances in using each. “Condescending” is outright rude while “patronizing” may or may not have ulterior motives behind it. So, it’s important to understand how to use each word in correct grammatical context.


To be “condescending” is an adjective that means a noun is displaying or showing superiority. Therefore, they will have a word choice that’s insulting, demeaning and treats another as if they are less of a person. This is always rude and unacceptable social behavior. It will be obvious and blatant.

My geometry teacher was condescending by putting a “stupid meter” on my quizzes and tests.

The tall building stood imposing against the skyline in an almost condescending way.

“You’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy” is a condescending slogan by the World Economic Forum.

No one has a right to be condescending to another without just cause.


“Patronizing” is much like “condescending,” it’s an adjective of superiority except it has a layer of assistance, helpfulness or kindness. The behavior appears to be supportive on the surface, but it’s easy to see past this motivation as a show of superiority.

In some cases, people may not realize they’re doing it and in other instances, people may do it in an attempt to be deceitful. Therefore, the inference of the word isn’t as damning as “condescending.”

The sales clerk was patronizing in telling me this dress looked good. I look like a whale!

Mother stood in the doorway with arms folded in a patronizing manner.

Most politicians speak to their constituents with patronizing and pretty words.

The patronizing editor rewrote the article regardless of the original text.

Mnemonic Device

To remember the difference between “condescending” and “patronizing,” dissect the words to extract their meaning. First, remove the –ing from both words, since this makes them gerunds and return them to their original verbs. Then, separate the various parts and analyze each.

Condescend = con (against) + descend (downward motion) OR to move against in a downward motion

Patronize = patron (a person giving support) + –ize (to become something else) OR a person giving support becomes something else

So, since “superiority” is the driving factor behind both words, consider the following:

Condescend = Superior Down Talk

Patronize = Support that’s Superior


Patronizing can be condescending, but patronizing pretends to be kind and condescending is outright rude.


There are times when people act and speak in superior ways and two of the best adjectives for it are “condescending” and “patronizing.” Remember that “condescending” speaks down to others in an obvious and rude way. “Patronizing” may intend to be nice, but it’s really “condescending” in its delivery.