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Greed vs. Ambition — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Maham Liaqat — Updated on March 12, 2024
Greed is an excessive desire for wealth or possessions, while ambition is a strong drive for success or achievement.
Greed vs. Ambition — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Greed and Ambition


Key Differences

Greed is characterized by an insatiable hunger for more, often at the expense of others' well-being or ethical standards. It is typically viewed negatively, as it prioritizes material gain above all else, leading to selfish or unethical behavior. Ambition, on the other hand, is the desire and determination to achieve success, which can be in the form of career advancement, personal goals, or contributions to society. Unlike greed, ambition is not inherently negative and is often seen as a positive trait that motivates individuals to work hard, innovate, and improve themselves or their surroundings.
Greed can manifest in various aspects of life, including financial wealth, power, and possessions, driving individuals to accumulate more than what they need or can use, disregarding the consequences of their actions on others or society at large. Ambitious people set goals and strive to achieve them through effort, skill, and perseverance, often inspiring others along the way.
While greed is mainly associated with material wealth and the excessive desire to acquire more for one's own benefit, ambition can encompass a broader range of aspirations, including non-material goals such as gaining knowledge, improving skills, or helping others. However, the line between greed and ambition can sometimes blur when the pursuit of success becomes excessive or obsessive, leading individuals to compromise their values, relationships, or integrity.
Despite these potential overlaps, the key distinction lies in the intent and outcomes of each trait. Greed focuses on self-gain, often disregarding the well-being of others, while ambition is about striving for excellence and achievement, potentially benefiting not just the individual but also the broader community. Recognizing and maintaining this distinction is crucial for personal development and ethical conduct.

Comparison Chart


An excessive desire for more wealth or possessions than one needs.
A strong drive to achieve success, recognition, or accomplishment.


Negative, associated with selfishness and unethical behavior.
Generally positive, linked to motivation and personal growth.


Material wealth, power, and possessions.
Broader goals including career, personal achievements, and societal contributions.


Accumulating wealth or possessions at the expense of others.
Setting and striving for personal or professional goals.


Often leads to unethical actions and disregard for others.
Can lead to personal fulfillment and potentially benefit society.

Compare with Definitions


Driven by an excessive desire for material gain.
His greed led him to exploit others for financial gain.


Motivated by a desire for success or achievement.
Her ambition drove her to become a leading expert in her field.


Often leads to unethical or harmful actions.
In her greed for power, she betrayed her closest allies.


Encourages hard work and perseverance.
His ambition led him to overcome numerous obstacles to achieve his goals.


Ignores the needs or well-being of others.
Driven by greed, the corporation neglected environmental regulations.


Balances personal goals with ethical considerations.
Despite her ambition, she remained committed to fair and ethical business practices.


Focuses on accumulating wealth or possessions.
The billionaire's greed was evident in his relentless pursuit of wealth.


Can be focused on personal growth or societal contributions.
The entrepreneur's ambition was not just to succeed but to innovate and create jobs.


Can lead to personal and social detriment.
The city's rampant greed resulted in widespread corruption and inequality.


Leads to personal fulfillment and can inspire others.
Their ambition and success served as an inspiration to the community.


Greed (or avarice) is an uncontrolled longing for increase in the acquisition or use of material gain (be it food, money, land, or animate/inanimate possessions); or social value, such as status, or power. Greed has been identified as undesirable throughout known human history because it creates behavior-conflict between personal and social goals.


An eager or strong desire to achieve something, such as fame or power.


Intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food
The colonists' greed for African land
Mercenaries who had allowed greed to overtake their principles
Greed has taken over football


The object or goal desired
Her ambition is the presidency.


An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth
"Many ... attach to competition the stigma of selfish greed" (Henry Fawcett).


Desire for exertion or activity; energy
Had no ambition to go dancing.


A selfish or excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved, especially of money, wealth, food, or other possessions.
His greed was his undoing.


Eager or inordinate desire for some object that confers distinction, as preferment, honor, superiority, political power, or fame; desire to distinguish one's self from other people.
My son, John, wants to be a firefighter very much. He has a lot of ambition.


To desire in a greedy manner, or to act on such a desire.


(countable) An object of an ardent desire.
My ambition is to own a helicopter.


An eager desire or longing; greediness; as, a greed of gain.


A desire, as in (sense 1), for another person to achieve these things.


Excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves


(uncountable) A personal quality similar to motivation, not necessarily tied to a single goal.


Reprehensible acquisitiveness; insatiable desire for wealth (personified as one of the deadly sins)


(obsolete) The act of going about to solicit or obtain an office, or any other object of desire; canvassing.


To seek after ambitiously or eagerly; to covet.


The act of going about to solicit or obtain an office, or any other object of desire; canvassing.
[I] used no ambition to commend my deeds.


An eager, and sometimes an inordinate, desire for preferment, honor, superiority, power, or the attainment of something.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling a way ambition:By that sin fell the angels.
The pitiful ambition of possessing five or six thousand more acres.


To seek after ambitiously or eagerly; to covet.
Pausanias, ambitioning the sovereignty of Greece, bargains with Xerxes for his daughter in marriage.


A cherished desire;
His ambition is to own his own business


A strong drive for success


Have as one's ambition

Common Curiosities

Can greed ever be a motivating factor for good?

While greed is typically negative, some argue that it can be a motivating factor in economic growth and innovation, though this is contentious and depends on the context and outcomes.

Is ambition always positive?

While ambition is generally seen as positive, excessive or uncontrolled ambition can lead to negative outcomes if it causes one to compromise ethical standards or harm others.

How can ambition benefit society?

Ambitious individuals often drive innovation, create jobs, and contribute to societal progress through their efforts to achieve personal or professional goals.

Is it possible for ambition to turn into greed?

Yes, ambition can turn into greed if the desire for success becomes excessive and leads to unethical behavior or a disregard for the well-being of others.

What are the consequences of greed in society?

Greed can lead to social inequality, corruption, and environmental degradation, as individuals or entities prioritize their gain over societal or ecological well-being.

Can greed be controlled or mitigated?

Greed can be mitigated through ethical education, strong social norms, and legal frameworks that discourage selfish behavior and promote fairness and equity.

Can greed affect personal relationships?

Yes, greed can negatively impact personal relationships, leading to mistrust, conflict, and isolation as individuals prioritize their desires over the needs and well-being of others.

How can one differentiate between healthy ambition and greed?

Healthy ambition is marked by a balance between striving for success and maintaining ethical standards, whereas greed disregards ethics and the well-being of others for personal gain.

Is there a genetic or psychological basis for greed or ambition?

While genetics and psychology can influence personality traits, the development of greed or ambition is also shaped by environmental factors, upbringing, and personal experiences.

Do all cultures view ambition and greed in the same way?

Cultural perceptions of ambition and greed can vary, with some cultures placing a higher value on collective well-being and others celebrating individual success and accumulation.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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