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Wary vs. Leery: What's the Difference?

By Harlon Moss & Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 20, 2024
Wary means being cautious or on guard against potential dangers, while leery suggests a more suspicious or distrustful attitude towards something or someone.

Key Differences

Wary implies a general sense of caution or vigilance against potential dangers or risks. It often indicates a readiness to act or avoid harm, typically based on previous experiences or general prudence. Leery, on the other hand, carries a stronger connotation of distrust or suspicion. It suggests an active sense of doubt or skepticism towards a particular person or situation.
Wary is often used in broader contexts where caution is needed without a specific focus on distrust. It reflects a prudent approach to uncertain situations. Leery is more focused on the potential deceit or untrustworthiness of specific individuals or scenarios. It indicates a more pointed and personalized doubt.
Both terms imply a need for careful consideration, but wary emphasizes caution and preparedness, whereas leery underscores suspicion and doubt. These nuanced differences are important in accurately conveying the nature of one's apprehension or vigilance.

Comparison Chart


Cautious or on guard
Distrustful or suspicious


General caution
Specific distrust


Broad, general situations
Specific individuals or scenarios


E.g., Wary of potential risks
E.g., Leery of someone's intentions

Emotional Tone

Neutral to mildly negative
Strongly negative

Wary and Leery Definitions


On guard.
The dog was wary of strangers approaching the house.


They were leery of accepting the unsolicited offer.


Hikers remained wary of sudden weather changes.


She was leery of the salesperson's high-pressure tactics.


He was wary of making hasty decisions.


Investors were leery of the company's financial health.


Parents are often wary of their children's online activities.


He felt leery about the new business proposal.


On guard; watchful
Taught to be wary of strangers.


She was leery of the stranger's friendliness.


Characterized by caution
A wary glance at the black clouds.


Suspicious or distrustful; wary
Was leery of aggressive salespeople.


Cautious of danger; carefully watching and guarding against deception, trickery, and dangers; suspiciously prudent
He is wary of dogs.


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.


Characterized by caution; guarded; careful; on one's guard


(of a look or smile) Lecherous.


Thrifty, provident


Openly distrustful and unwilling to confide


Cautious of danger; carefully watching and guarding against deception, artifices, and dangers; timorously or suspiciously prudent; circumspect; scrupulous; careful.
We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labors of public men.


Characterized by caution; guarded; careful.
It behoveth our words to be wary and few.


Marked by keen caution and watchful prudence;
They were wary in their movements
A wary glance at the black clouds
Taught to be wary of strangers


Openly distrustful and unwilling to confide


She was wary of investing in the new company.


Is "leery" positive or negative?

Leery is generally negative, implying distrust.

What does "leery" mean?

Leery means being distrustful or suspicious of something or someone.

When should you use "leery"?

Use leery when describing distrust, e.g., leery of a new acquaintance.

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

No, wary indicates caution while leery implies suspicion.

Is "wary" positive or negative?

Wary is neutral to mildly negative, suggesting carefulness.

Is "leery" a formal word?

It can be used in both formal and informal contexts.

Can "wary" describe people?

Yes, e.g., She was wary of new people.

Does "leery" have synonyms?

Yes, synonyms include suspicious, skeptical, and distrustful.

What does "wary" mean?

Wary means being cautious or on guard against potential dangers.

When should you use "wary"?

Use wary when describing general caution, e.g., wary of a risky investment.

Can "wary" describe feelings?

Yes, it describes a feeling of caution.

How can "wary" be used in a sentence?

E.g., She was wary of strangers in the neighborhood.

Can "leery" describe situations?

Yes, e.g., They were leery of the situation's outcome.

Does "wary" have synonyms?

Yes, synonyms include cautious, careful, and vigilant.

Can "leery" describe attitudes?

Yes, it describes an attitude of distrust.

Is "leery" commonly used?

It is less common but still widely understood.

Is "wary" a formal word?

Yes, it is suitable for formal contexts.

Is "wary" commonly used?

Yes, it is commonly used in English.

What is a key difference between "wary" and "leery"?

Wary emphasizes caution, whereas leery emphasizes suspicion.

How can "leery" be used in a sentence?

E.g., He was leery of the new investment opportunity.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Co-written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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