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Burn vs Scorch vs Char vs Sear vs Singe

Burn, scorch, char, sear, singe mean to injure by exposure to fire or intense heat.

Burn is the most comprehensive of these terms, for it is applicable regardless of the extent of injury or of whether fire or heat is the destructive agency.

  • He was badly burned in the blaze.
  • The vegetables were burned to a crisp (= badly burned).
  • My skin burns easily (= in the sun) .
  • I got badly burned by the sun yesterday.

Burn is also applicable when a similar injury or effect is produced by another agency.

  • The brandy burned (= felt too hot on) my throat.

(see also

Scorch implies superficial burning that changes the color (especially to brown or black) or texture of something. (see also Burn the earth vs Scorch the earth )

  • I scorched my dress when I was ironing it.
  • Don't stand so near the fire─your coat is scorching!

Char usually implies total or partial reduction to carbon or charcoal by fire.

  • Grill the peppers until the skin starts to char.
  • The bodies had been charred beyond recognition.

Sear applies basically to the burning or scorching of animal tissues by fire or intense heat (as in cauterizing a wound, branding an animal, or quickly browning the outside of meats so that they will retain their juices in later and slower cooking).

  • The heat from the explosion seared their hands and faces.
  • Sear the meat first (= cook the outside of it quickly at a high temperature) to retain its juices.

Singe implies a very superficial burning. Sometimes such burning is intentional, especially when the short hairs or bristles covering a carcass being prepared for market or for cooking are quickly destroyed by a flame. (see also Like a scalded cat vs Like a singed cat )

  • He singed his hair as he tried to light his cigarette.
  • My sweater started to singe when I leaned over a burning candle.