Negative impact – synonyms & reformulation

We so often hear of something having a negative impact, yet there are many more idiomatic ways of expressing this idea.

You can often use a verb or adjective instead, which allows you to be more precise or more colourful. Another option that often works is using a verb and modifying it with an adverb.

Here are some options for you.


Instead of has a negative impact, try some of the following. Of course, your choice will depend on context.

  • damage
  • weaken
  • undermine
  • hurt
  • hit
  • affect
  • cause harm to…

Add adverbs to modify the verbs, especially if you want to make them stronger. Seriously, badly, and severely are usually safe choices.

A few idioms:

  • to leave a mark on
  • to play havoc with
  • to take a toll on
  • to deal a blow to (you could add adjectives: ‘a crushing blow’, ‘a severe blow’, ‘a serious blow’)
  • (informal) to do a number on


Instead of saying X has had a negative impact on the economy, you can use adjectives.

Either replace negative with something more descriptive, or say that the effect of X has been…(insert adjective).

Using adjectives allows you to play with register and emphasis, since some adjectives are much stronger or more formal than others.

  • unfortunate
  • destructive
  • damaging
  • harmful
  • detrimental
  • (formal) deleterious
  • dangerous
  • adverse

Stronger options:

  • catastrophic
  • disastrous
  • devastating
  • crippling
  • dire


Remember, there are a few words that have a similar meaning to negative impact. As always, they may or may not be suitable for the context:

  • drawback
  • disadvantage
  • downside

You could also choose to use a synonym of impact, along with a different adjective. For example:

  • damaging ramifications
  • undesirable consequences
  • adverse effects
  • an unfortunate outcome
  • catastrophic repercussions


Here are some headlines (hence the missing verbs) and sentences taken from the press. All of them could have used the term negative impact.

See if you can come up with a different phrase. There are many possible solutions.

Pandemic’s negative impact on mental health of women and young people is most serious.

In France, nearly half (47%) of people aged 18 to 24 said the pandemic had had a negative impact on their mental health.

Half of people aged 18-24 in the UK say the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health.

Lockdown may have a negative impact on mental health

The negative psychological impact of coronavirus in Britain – a visual guide

Anxiety levels double and 80 per cent of people report negative impact of living with pandemic threat

Pandemic hits mental health of women and young people hardest.

In France, nearly half (47%) of people aged 18 to 24 said the pandemic had taken a toll on their mental health.

Half of people aged 18-24 in the UK say the pandemic badly affected their mental health.

Lockdown may have a number of negative consequences for mental health

The psychological toll of coronavirus in Britain – a visual guide

Anxiety levels double and 80 per cent of people report devastating effects of living with pandemic threat

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Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

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2 thoughts on “Negative impact – synonyms & reformulation”

  1. I’d add the word “impinge” to the list of synonyms for “damage” – particularly in the context of rights or principles…

    • Interesting! Thank you for this suggestion. I had a think about why this didn’t occur to me, and reckoned ‘impinge’ may be more common in American English than in British English. Also, I think I’d be more likely to use ‘impinge on’ in its meaning of ‘encroach on’, rather than ‘negatively affect’ – which is why it could work well for rights, principles, or boundaries, as you say.


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