Spoilers up to and including Half-Blood Prince.

This might seem a bit out there, but I've become convinced that the Full Body-Bind (Petrificus Totalus) is plain and simply better than Stupefy. Let me establish their properties:

The Full Body-Bind is:

  • Seemingly pretty easy to learn. Hermione famously used it on Neville in her first year (Philosopher's Stone, chapter 16) and we see it used many times by members of the D.A. in the Department of Mysteries. I cannot recall any point in the books where anyone mentions struggling to learn it.
  • Very subtle. Harry cast it twice in chapter 28 of Half-Blood Prince while chasing some Death Eaters that aren't far away, but there's not any reference to them noticing him until much later. Furthermore, when Dumbledore cast in on Harry in chapter 27 (the spell used is named in chapter 28), he literally didn't know what hit him, and Draco made no sign of hearing a noise when he entered the room at the same time as the spell being non-verbally cast. Aside from a reference to someone failing to block it - implying that there's something to actually block - I cannot recall any reference in the books to this spell creating any sound or sight that would suggest that it's been cast. In fact, although it can miss (e.g. it happens in chapter 31 of Deathly Hallows), I cannot recall it ever being dodged.
  • Able to hit multiple targets? This confuses me, but I can't find any other way to read this quote from chapter 26 of Half-Blood Prince: “Petrificus Totalus!” Harry bellowed again, backing away as he swiped his wand through the air; six or seven of them crumpled, but more were coming toward him.
  • Here's the most important part: Aside from one notable case where the death of the caster ended the spell, it appears that the Full Body-Bind lasts until it is counter-cursed (e.g. Half-Blood Prince, chapter 28: "the full Body-Bind Curse Dumbledore had placed upon him lifted, known that it could have happened only because its caster was dead"). This is fantastic on several grounds: 1) If the opponent's allies don't know the counter-curse, there's every chance that you've just killed the target. 2) Casting the counter-curse makes your opponent's allies open to being hit by you. 3) The target is completely out of the fight until the counter-curse is used. Unlike Stupefy, they're not going to unexpectedly get back up.
  • Useless with non-humanoids? We know that Stupefy works on non-humans, e.g. Goblet of Fire shows it working on a dragon, but given the position that the Full-Body Bind puts its target in, the comments have pointed out that it might be safe to guess that it won't work properly on non-humanoids.

And Stupefy is:

  • Tough to learn. Chapter 29 of Goblet of Fire tells us that Harry had never used it until he was practicing for the final Tri-Wziard task and chapter 21 of Order of the Phoenix shows a sixth-year, Cho Chang, telling Harry that she's never managed to stun anything before.
  • Absolutely blatant. As chapter 31 of Order of the Phoenix shows us, it produces a beam of red light that can be seen from a tower away and has been known to cause the target to be illuminated and lifted high off of their feet. This lack of subtly also makes it dodgeable, as shown time and time again in the battle in the Department of Mysteries.
  • Only able to hit one target at a time. I know of no example showing otherwise.
  • Of unreliable, and sometimes short, duration. This is again the most important part. In chapter 35 of Order of the Phoenix, Lucius Malfoy is seemingly hit by it, but he recovers merely two pages later. When Professor Flitwick is hit by it in Half-Blood Prince, chapter 29 shows that it took him seemingly a few hours to recover.
  • Optionally counter-cursable. Chapter 29 of Goblet of Fire again: Ron was "Stunned and reawoken by Harry for the fifth time in a row" while Harry was practicing the spell.
  • A knock-out. The comments and the answers have rightly pointed out that this is sometimes better than keeping your target conscious, e.g. if you don't want them to hear what you're up to.
  • Stackable. This is the one thing that I can definitely give to Stupefy over the Full-Body Bind, which as far as we know isn't stackable (what would stacking it even mean?). Goblet of Fire makes it clear that hitting a dragon with many simultaneous casting of Stupefy will take it down, and Professor McGonagall was hospitalized when she was hit with four beams at once in Order of the Phoenix.

So, aside from the fact that multiple castings of Stupefy on the same subject seem to increase its effectiveness to near lethal levels, why is it used so much more frequently in the series than the Full Body-Bind, which seems to be superior in many other significant aspects?

  • 5
    From my interpretation it also appears that Stupefy knocks the target unconscious which might be desirable in some cases as opposed to having someone immobile but still able to potentially observe what happens next and tell about it later Nov 18, 2020 at 21:08
  • I would like to note that the scene you described when the spell hits multiple objects is when Harry fights the Inferi. During that fight we see more spells that hit multiple targets: " "Impedimenta! Incarcerous!" A few of them stumbled, one or two of them bound in ropes," I can interpret from that that perhaps Inferi are much more affected by spells and one spell would work against a few of them. Therefore I don't think saying that Petrificus Totalus hits multiple targets is accurate.
    – MBEllis
    Nov 19, 2020 at 11:10
  • Regarding stackability, you conclude that body-binding not stackable because of your example with the dragons. Might it be that body-binding is limited to humans? It does lock the body in a position that can be interpreted specifically to erect primates.
    – havakok
    Dec 23, 2020 at 11:42
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    @havakok It's not so much that we know that the body-bind doesn't stack, it's that we know that Stupefy definitely does.
    – J. Mini
    Dec 23, 2020 at 11:45
  • @J.Mini, you are very right. All I am saying is that we also know Stupefy to be suitable for animals and that's another advantage.
    – havakok
    Dec 23, 2020 at 11:50

3 Answers 3


Non-Verbal Spells

Petrificus Totalus leaves the person unable to move, with their arms and legs at their sides. Against a skilled Witch or Wizard That Isn't Good Enough

For example, I use Petrificus Totalus on my opponent. They get frozen. But they may still have their wand in their hand. Even if they don't have their wand to hand, it is likely to be extremely close to them. As we saw in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Harry was attacked by Dementors, a wizard can use their wand to cast a spell when its not in their hand. (Harry says "lumos" in the dark and his nearby wand lights up.) Why does this matter? Nonverbal spells. Are they harder than normal? Yes. But also seem to be used as a matter of course by skilled witches and wizards. Do all spells work in proximity to a wand rather than it being in your hand? Unknown, but we know some DO. We also know that not all spells (lumos being one) need specific wand movements. Someone suffering from Petrificus Totalis is still conscious, with a wand still in-hand or nearby. Which means they can still cast spells. Potentially even the counter-curse for Petrificus Totalus. Given the fact that Petrificus Totalus Isn't seen used in duels between skilled combatants I would go so far as to say it's likely the counter-curse for petrificus totalus can be used without a specific wand movement, and possibly with your wand beside you rather than actually in your hand. (Though we have no hard proof of this.)

In a situation with multiple combatants (a common theme in the later books) this is even more important because if you drop someone (by whatever spell) you're likely to be attacked/attack someone else immediately afterwards. You often don't have time to "finish off" an opponent. Which means your target can quickly "say" the counter-curse and resume the fight.

Also, given the speed at which truly skilled wizards and witches duel (Snape vs the staff and Molly vs Bellatrix in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows come to mind) it's possible that Petrificus Totalus wouldn't even last long enough for your opponent to fall over! If they non-verbally "say" the counterspell the moment they're hit, you might find your target combat-capable before they even hit the floor! So even though Petrificus Totalus can be used against multiple people, unless you've taken them by suprise (a-la Harry v Death Eaters in * Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince*) there's a good chance you only momentarily stopped them, rather than put them out of the fight.

Meanwhile Stupify knocks your assailant unconscious. An unconscious person can't fight back, and in a melee situation would at the very least require another combatant to stop attacking to perform the Enervate charm/counter-curse. This is likely what happened when Lucius Malfoy was hit in Order of the Phoenix though we don't have proof because his recovery happened "out of sight" in the book. Apart from Lucius' off-screen recovery there is no indication that a stunned individual can recover without being unconscious for a long period of time unless Enervate is used on them.

TL/DR: Stupify renders your opponent combat-ineffective due to unconsciousness. Petrificus Totalis still allows for non-verbal spellcasting. Ergo Stupify is a better "combat spell" than Petrificus Totalis.

  • 1
    Nice observation! Hermione seems to have gained either a rival or an accomplice. :)
    – straycat
    Dec 24, 2020 at 23:48

It is faster, which is important in a dueling spell. Other than that, spells are often used in HP as plot devices, or because of their familiarity to the reader, at least as much so as they are used because they would seem to be the most logical spell to just say the time. Like Harry's fondness for expelliarmus.

  • 2
    Source for it being faster?
    – J. Mini
    Nov 18, 2020 at 19:12
  • 7
    "Stupefy" is 3 syllables, "Petrificus Totalus" is 7.
    – Giuseppe
    Nov 18, 2020 at 19:14
  • 2
    @Giuseppe Meaningless. We know nothing about the length of the incantations or when each syllable is allowed to be said.
    – J. Mini
    Nov 18, 2020 at 19:34
  • 2
    No, its not meaningless... two wizards duel. Both start saying their incantation at the same time. Stupefy is already on its way before the other even completed saying „petrificus“...
    – Tode
    Nov 18, 2020 at 21:16
  • 3
    @TorstenLink Syllables don't have all have the same fixed length. Not even in normal language, but especially not in magic incantations (see: wingardium leviosa, with a nice and long 'gar')
    – Annatar
    Nov 19, 2020 at 11:47

I have read all of the Harry Potter books, and it seems that in some cases, it would seem better to Stun someone than Full-Body-Binding them. This could be in certain cases :-

  • You do not want any witness - It seems that Stunning someone would be much better in some cases, as Petrifying them would render them unable to speak, or move, but would not restrict their ability to to see and hear. Stunning them, on the other hand, would render them unconscious (don't you go on telling me that only experienced wizards and witches can Stun people in such a way that they are unconscious!). This will also make sure that they can't do any of the above mentioned activities.

There can also be times where Petrifying seems like the better option :-

  • When you really do not want someone to something, but do not want to harm them - If one remembers The Philosopher's stone, they would remember that Hermione Petrified Neville because he was stopping he trio from preventing Quirrell getting the Philosopher's stone (don't worry Neville, you are completely innocent), although she did not use another spell which would hurt him or allow him to tell others that the trio were sneaking out.

Now, let's see some advantages and disadvantages of both spells :-

  • Stupefy - It can knock out your opponent if you need it, but is not useful if you want to do not want to harm your opponent, but just to disable them. It can be blocked by using a Shield Spell (Protego) and many Magical Creatures are resistant to it as well.

  • Petrificus Totalus - When used on a living subject, the victim's arms and legs snapped together, and they would fall down, stiff as a board. However the person's abilities to hear, see (however just straight forward), feel, and think still worked properly. This can also be deflected using a Shield Spell and there is no mention of any Magical Creature being resistant to it. It is useful when just stopping someone without doing harm to them seems like a good idea.

The information that is presented above has been linked.

Now, my guess is (please take this with a pinch of salt as it pure speculation on my part) that as I have mentioned below in the comments, it could well be the combative and very action-packed, edge-of-your-seat storyline makes it such that more combative and offensive spells more common in the movies/books. It could actually be that the Petrifying spell is even more common than the Stunning spell, but we wouldn't know because poor Potter never had a proper normal day of rest in his life :)

  • Please notify me if any change is needed, whether it be regarding the information, or just the grammar or any disputed statements. Dec 23, 2020 at 11:29
  • This lists some properties of both spells that I missed, but it doesn't touch on the key issue - Why is Stupefy so much more common? What advantage does it have that so greatly outweighs the advantages of the Full-Body Bind?
    – J. Mini
    Dec 23, 2020 at 11:31
  • @J.Mini, it could be that the Petrificus Totalus is more common, but the very combative and action-packed storyline of Harry Potter makes spells like Stupefy and other spells that are used more in combat more common. I was just adding this part in the answer, when I saw your comment. Dec 23, 2020 at 11:35
  • I think this misses the point. The question is asked in the context of combat and is trying to find out why we see Stupefy more often in that context. If I want to take somebody out of a fight, I'm going to use the spell that lasts until it's counter-cursed rather than the spell that can also be recovered from naturally (hence why the Body-Bind was a better choice to use on Nev, even if stunning was an option). Not wanting any witnesses is a fair point, but it doesn't fit most of the cases where we see Stupefy. I can't recall the Body-Bind ever facing shields. Also, hitting the ground hurts.
    – J. Mini
    Dec 23, 2020 at 12:04
  • @J.Mini what causes more harm? Hitting the ground the way Neville did, or literally flying through the air and falling on the ground the way Ron did in Order of the Phoenix? Also, the Full-Body-Bind curse would be quite a basic spell for many skilled duellers. It would be like using Suctemsempra on Snape. While your point about people gradually recovering from the Stunning spell holds water, my point that Petrificus Totalus causes less harm (when compared to Stupefy) also isn't false. Dec 23, 2020 at 12:15

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