Ad Hominem Abusive (Personal Attack): Definition And Examples

Ad Hominem Abusive Fallacy: Definition and Examples - Fallacy in logic

Ad hominem abusive, often referred to as “personal attack”, is likely the most common type of ad hominem argument, as well as one of the most common logical fallacies. It fallaciously focuses on the person behind the argument, rather than on the argument itself.

In the political arena, the use of ad hominem attacks is referred to as “mudslinging”, and it is often the meat and potatoes of political debates and campaigns. For instance, calling an opponent insulting nicknames (such as “lyin’ Hillary and “crooked Hillary”) can be often seen as examples of ad hominem abusive.


The fallacy of ad hominem abusive occurs when someone verbally attacks the person making an argument, rather than criticizing the validity of their claim.

In other words, it’s an attempt to discredit someone’s argument by directing the focus on their supposed failings – that are unrelated to the issue at hand – such as their character, intelligence, physical appearance, or morals.

Its logical form is as follows:

  • Person A makes argument X.
  • Person A is an idiot.
  • Therefore, argument X is false.

An example would be:

  • Carly: “I think that climate change is the most important issue of our time and everyone should acknowledge that.”
  • Jamie: “You didn’t even go to college, so no one should listen to you.”

In this example, Jamie uses an ad hominem argument against Carly by simply dismissing her claim with an insulting and irrelevant comment; pointing out that Carly never went to college is irrelevant in regard to the truthfulness of her argument. As such, her counter-claim is an appeal to the emotions and prejudices of the audience rather than on facts and intellect.

Ad hominem abusive belongs to the broad category of informal fallacies and falls into their subcategory of relevance fallacies, and, even more precisely, is a type of genetic fallacy.

Alternative Names

This particular fallacy is also known by several other names, including:

  • Argumentum ad hominem
  • Personal attack
  • Abusive fallacy
  • Damning the source
  • Name-calling


  • Mike: “There are so many Earth-like planets out there that I think there must be life on some of them.” Jenny: “What could you possibly know about this, you are an unemployed loser who spends all his time watching Netflix.”
  • “Friedrich Nietzsche was an ugly man who never married, you shouldn’t take any of his ideas seriously.”
  • Jim: “I think Toyota makes better cars than Volkswagen.” Jack: “That can’t be true since you are an idiot.”

Not an Ad Hominem

There are certain cases where the criticism of a person is not a fallacious ad hominem attack:

  • A simple insult: In a situation where the personal attack is not being used as evidence to refute an argument, then it’s simply an insult, not a fallacy. For example, when someone counters an opponent’s claim with a relevant and valid argument but makes an irrelevant insult simultaneously, it’s not an ad hominem.
  • Relevant criticism: An argument against a person is not fallacious when it’s clearly relevant to the discussion. In other words, when the topic of an argument is directly related to a person’s characteristics, credentials, skills, or such. For instance, if someone in a position to enforce the law has acted against the law, then pointing it out may be valid and important to the debate.