I've often been told that I'm too picky when it comes to spelling and grammar.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Shutter vs Shudder

What is wrong with this sentence?

  • "I shuttered at the feeling of dread that swept over me."

If you think that's a fine sentence, you're not alone. But you are very, very wrong.

A camera shutter
shut·ter  [shuht-er] 

1. a solid or louvered movable cover for a window.
2. a movable cover, slide, etc., for an opening.
3. a person or thing that shuts.
4. Photography . a mechanical device for opening and closing the aperture of a camera lens to expose film or the like.

verb (used with object)
5. to close or provide with shutters: She shuttered the windows.
6. to close (a store or business operations) for the day or permanently.

(From dictionary.com)

You can shutter, but there must be an object. You shutter something; you don't merely shutter. I don't want to imagine what you mean if you try to say that you are shuttering yourself. Although, that might be an interesting metaphor.
Window shutters

I don't think I've ever heard or seen anyone use meaning number 3 from the above definition. Everyone shuts things; does that mean that we are all shutters? I guess so, at times in our lives. It's an odd term, though. I cannot see a use for it.

I think the most common usage would be in photography. The shutter is a very important part of the camera, without which it wouldn't work. Any photographer worth his or her salt knows that.

Window shutters are not so common on newer houses, but you can find them on older houses still. Before windows had glass, shutters were used to keep out the weather and bugs and such.

Therefore, you cannot shutter with dread. You can, however, shudder.

shud·der  [shuhd-er]

verb (used without object)
1. to tremble with a sudden convulsive movement, as from horror,fear, or cold.
2. a convulsive movement of the body, as from horror, fear, or cold.

(From dictionary.com)

Notice that this is a verb with no object. You can shudder. You cannot shudder something.

I don't really understand why so many people confuse these two words. I guess they sound similar, but so what? So do many words in English. If we mixed up words every time they sound alike, we'd be giving our lovers read roses, drinking tee, etc.

Shudder and shutter don't even sound exactly alike, unless you pronounce a 't' like a 'd' and then there really is no hope for you. *shudder*


  1. In the defense of people in the South (and this includes myself) we do pronounce "shutter" and "shudder" the same way. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we know which is which.

    1. That's true. I apologise if I offended you.