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faults, flaws, weaknesses and drawbacks

Helen from Russia writes:


Could you help me to work out the differences in use
between the following words: faults, flaws, weaknesses and drawbacks? Are they
interchangeable when talking about someones character?
Roger Woodham replies:
Of these four synonyms, or expressions with similar meanings, fault is probably the most
widely term used.
Faults
Fault is not so much used to talk about someones character, Helen. Instead we talk about
electrical, mechanical or technical faults:
There was a fault in the wiring and I had no idea how to correct it.
There was a delay in the broadcast of the programme and this was due to a technical fault.
A mechanical fault caused the train to come off the rails.
A fault then describes a weakness in something, primarily. But sometimes it is used to
describe a weakness in someones character:
She has her faults, but, on the whole, shes a nice person.
We all have our own faults, I suppose.
We also have the frequently used expression: Its (not) my/your/his/etc fault. This is a more
idiomatic way of saying: I am (not) to blame or I am (not) responsible (for this
unfortunate situation).
Its not my fault hes late. Dont blame me.
Im sorry. Its my fault. I forgot to pass on the message.
If you dont get enough sleep, its entirely your own fault.
It was partly the teachers fault for giving them too much homework.
Flaws
We use flaw mainly to talk about a minor fault or weakness in something which make it less
effective or valuable. We talk about flawed arguments for example. Note also a flawless
complexion:
Theres a flaw in your argument. I agree with you up to a point, but the last part doesnt make
complete sense to me.
There was a tiny flaw in the necklace and it certainly wasnt worth all the money we had paid
for it.
She attributed her flawless complexion to the moisturising creams she used.

However, we can also talk about serious or major flaws:


There are major flaws in the way we train teachers in this country.
There were serious flaws in the construction of the pedestrian bridge.
And, yes, we can also use flaw to describe a fault in someones character:
The only flaw in his character was his short temper he tended to fly off the handle at the
slightest provocation.
Weaknesses
Weaknesses generally describe the state or condition of being weak and of lacking strength or
resilience.
The main weakness of this government is that it keeps changing direction on key policy
issues.
He showed great weakness in not owning up to his part in the bad behaviour.
Weaknesses can also refer to faults or problems that make something less attractive or
effective:
They were keen to know how well it would sell in Russia so they listed all the strengths and
weaknesses of their product for this market.
The only weakness in her character that I could spot was that she seemed to be overdependent on others.
Note that if you have a weakness for something, you are very fond of it:
I have a great weakness for chocolate. I can never refuse it.
Drawbacks
We use drawback to refer to a feature of something which makes it less useful or acceptable
than it could be. Drawback is often synonymous with disadvantage, but note that
drawforward does not exist as an alternative to advantage!
The only drawback / disadvantage with this accommodation is that its a fifteen-minute walk
to the bus-stop.
The main drawback of this examination is that it takes two months before the results are
released.
So, Helen, from the shades of meaning inherent in all four of these terms, note that we can
refer to faults, flaws and weaknesses in someones character, but we are less likely to talk
about drawbacks in someones character.