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Leary vs. Leery — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on November 7, 2023
Leary means cautious or wary due to realistic suspicions; Leery means cautious or wary due to doubtful suspicions.
Leary vs. Leery — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Leary and Leery


Key Differences

Leary is often used to describe a person who is cautious or wary because of real suspicions or past experiences. For example, someone might be leary of investment opportunities after losing money in the past. In contrast, leery generally implies a sense of distrust or skepticism without necessarily having a specific reason. It's more about an intuitive feeling of suspicion.
Leary, which is less commonly used compared to leery, still holds a place in the lexicon for its connotation of being careful due to realistic apprehensions. If you've been burned before, you might be leary of a similar situation. Leery, on the other hand, is what you feel when you suspect something might be off, even if you can't put your finger on why. It's that gut feeling telling you to be cautious.
When someone is leary, their caution is often rooted in tangible experiences. It's the wariness that comes from knowing. Leery describes a similar caution but one that's born out of a sense of possibility rather than certainty. It's the wariness that comes from suspecting.
In some contexts, people use leary when they actually mean leery, which can lead to confusion. Precision in language matters, so understanding that leary implies caution based on experience, whereas leery implies a general sense of mistrust, is key. Each word serves to describe a different shade of wariness.
The distinction between leary and leery is subtle but important for clear communication. While both words convey a sense of caution, leary is a red flag raised by experience, leery by a hunch. Being leary means you have a reason to watch your step; being leery means you're watching your step just in case.

Comparison Chart


Wary due to realistic suspicions
Wary due to doubtful suspicions


Less common usage
More commonly used and recognized


Caution based on experience
Caution based on intuition


Past experiences influencing caution
General sense of mistrust without specific reason


Specific and less frequent
General and more frequent

Compare with Definitions


Suspicious or mistrustful because of likely possibilities based on experience.
The team was leary of outdoor events after the last one was rained out.


Adjective meaning cautious due to suspicion or distrust, often without specific evidence.
He was leery of the too-good-to-be-true deal on the car.


Hesitant to act due to caution.
He's leary of investing in stocks after the market crash.


Showing suspicion or lack of trust towards someone or something.
She gave the salesperson a leery look when he promised a full refund.


Adjective meaning cautious or wary due to realistic suspicions or previous experiences.
After getting food poisoning once, he's leary of eating at street vendors.


Having or showing wary suspicion about something's truth or trustworthiness.
He became leery of promises that seemed impossible to fulfill.


Reluctant to accept something due to past experiences.
She was leary of signing the contract without reading the fine print.


Disinclined to believe or accept something without sufficient proof.
Voters are leery of politicians who make grandiose promises.


Guarded in behavior or attitude as a result of concrete suspicions.
She became leary of strangers after her apartment was burglarized.


Suspicious or wary, especially in a protective way.
Parents are often leery of letting their children go on unsupervised trips.


United States psychologist who experimented with psychoactive drugs (including LSD) and became a well-known advocate of their use (1920-1996)


Suspicious or distrustful; wary
Was leery of aggressive salespeople.


Cautious, suspicious, wary, hesitant, or nervous about something; having reservations or concerns.
Since he was bitten by a dog when he was young, he has always been leery of animals.


(of a look or smile) Lecherous.


Openly distrustful and unwilling to confide

Common Curiosities

What does "leary" mean?

"Leary" means being cautious or wary due to realistic suspicions, often based on previous experiences.

What is the origin of "leary"?

"Leary" is believed to derive from the English dialectal leer, meaning "learning" or "knowledge."

What does "leery" imply?

"Leery" implies a general sense of distrust or skepticism, often without a specific reason.

How do you spell "leery" correctly?

"Leery" is spelled L-E-E-R-Y.

Is "leary" a common word?

"Leary" is less common than "leery" and is often replaced by it in modern usage.

How can someone show they are "leary"?

A person may show they are leary through cautious actions, reluctance to commit, or questioning.

Can "leary" and "leery" be used interchangeably?

No, "leary" suggests caution due to past experiences, while "leery" is about suspicion without clear evidence.

What is a sentence example using "leery"?

"He was leery of the stranger's intentions, even though he appeared friendly."

What is a sentence example using "leary"?

"She was leary of the new dog, having been bitten by one before."

How can someone show they are "leery"?

Someone might show they are leery with hesitant behavior, skepticism, or by seeking more information before proceeding.

In what situation might someone be "leery"?

Someone might be leery when encountering a situation that seems suspicious but without clear evidence to justify the feeling.

Are there synonyms for "leary" and "leery"?

Yes, synonyms for "leary" include cautious, wary, and guarded, while synonyms for "leery" include suspicious, distrustful, and skeptical.

Is "leery" a negative trait?

Being leery is not inherently negative; it can be a prudent reaction to uncertainty.

Could "leary" indicate good judgment?

Yes, being leary could reflect good judgment by avoiding potential problems based on past experiences.

Is "leery" always based on intuition?

While "leery" often involves intuition, it can also be based on subtle cues or a sense of unease.

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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.

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