Broom or brush (to clean the floor)?

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vinx91ct

Member
Italiano
I thought that the broom was that necessary instrument to clean the floor of a house, but after living a few months in Great Britain, an English colleague that I worked with explained to me that it exists a substantial difference between a broom and a brush. A broom is more commonly used to sweep the external floors (such as streets, garages, sidewalks etc.), while a brush is more used on internal and closed spaces (such as the floor of a house, pub or shop). Is that true?
 
  • DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    As a BE speaker, I'm not entirely sure there's a substantial difference as far as cleaning the floor goes.

    I tend to agree that I associate "broom" with outdoors: sweeping up leaves in the garden or snow off the path. And "brush" can also mean a small implement that you might use to groom your dog with.

    Other than that, do you have a specific context in mind, please? :)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It's the other way round for me: I don't think I ever use the term "broom" (unless I'm talking about Harry Potter).
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    There's clearly overlap here. But brooms tend to be bigger and/or harder; brushes are smaller and/or softer.

    At the two extremes, yard brooms have very stiff bristles and a long handle:

    l_b-32007fb_hires.jpg

    Dustpans are usually accompanied by small hand brushes:

    0454147-1.jpg
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Long handle, indoor use: broom in my usage. I've noticed that Derby natives call this a brush. My usage mirrors that of my parents, who are (were) from Kent. "Sweep the floor" implies "broom" to me.
    Long handle, outdoor use: also a broom in my usage.
    The thing that goes with a dustpan: brush in my usage.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I had no idea there was variation in this, but according to the dialect map of England (I actually own that book), 'broom' is used in the South East and the West Midlands, 'brush' in the North and the South West. See map 28; I'll try to link to it on Google Books.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    To me, any brush on the end of a long stick is a broom, not a brush.
    Agreed. That’s also how the words are used in my neck of the woods (London).

    A broom has a long handle and is used for sweeping floors and similar surfaces, while a brush — of the general cleaning variety, as opposed to toothbrushes, hairbrushes, paintbrushes, etc. — has a very short one. Being used indoors or outdoors has nothing to do with which word you use.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    (From my U.S. perspective) When I was growing up in the U.S. this was a standard house broom. You could use it indoors or out but you'd probably have a separate one for each use. Now they've gone high tech and don't necessarily use natural materials. At their most basic, brooms are made for sweeping while standing up using two hands. The sweepings are usually collected in a dustpan (if indoors).
    rubbermaid-commercial-products-corn-brooms-rcp6381-64_1000.jpg

    A brush either has no handle or a very short handle (and often very stiff bristles) and is made for scrubbing, generally with one hand, frequently on hands and knees, usually with water (and soap of some kind). You don't use a dustpan with a brush.
    hdx-scrub-brushes-252mbhdxrm-64_145.jpg

    
    Having said that, there are dozens of different kinds of specialized brushes and brooms so categorizing them is probably not that easy and I'm sure there is significant overlap. There are hand brooms that look like shrunken full-sized brooms and there are brushes with long handles. When it comes to cleaning floors, though, brooms sweep and brushes scrub.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I had no idea there was variation in this, but according to the dialect map of England (I actually own that book), 'broom' is used in the South East and the West Midlands, 'brush' in the North and the South West. See map 28; I'll try to link to it on Google Books.
    That fits: I'm originally from Somerset:).
     

    vinx91ct

    Member
    Italiano
    I had no idea there was variation in this, but according to the dialect map of England (I actually own that book), 'broom' is used in the South East and the West Midlands, 'brush' in the North and the South West. See map 28; I'll try to link to it on Google Books.
    Mamma mia! :eek: I did not think that a simple brush could cause such a discussion. Effectively it makes sense. My English work partner is from Leeds.

    DonnyB said:
    Other than that, do you have a specific context in mind, please?
    I wanted to say to this friend of mine to pass me the broom, and for broom I intended this => https://www.amazon.it/Vileda-Paletta-Con-La-Scopa/dp/B00IYZ6K5C

    Thus he answered that the broom is more similar to this => Vecchia scopa malvagi isolato su bianco. scopa della strega. Una scopa o più comunemente noto come le streghe scopa. , while the first one is a brush. Here it seems to understand that, after all is said and done, this my English friend was basically right.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    For me, your first link shows a broom and the second one shows a (witch's) broomstick - but hardly anybody uses those for sweeping anymore.

    Another type of broom is the long-handled one shown in post #12.

    I have to stoop down to use a brush on the floor. I'm not sure that men are the best authorities when it comes to naming household cleaning equipment.:p
     

    vinx91ct

    Member
    Italiano
    Let's try to sum up! It is generally correct to define broom that tool needed for cleaning/sweeping a surface; nevertheless, there could be some people who call that same tool as a brush. This happens due to several linguistic alterations (or: regionalisms), specially in the United Kingdom, that produce a light change in its meaning.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    To me, any brush on the end of a long stick is a broom, not a brush.
    Ditto, and as to linguistic sources - father Scottish, mother from London - and I don't recall either of them calling a broom a brush. They also have different verbs - a broom sweeps and a brush brushes.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Let's try to sum up! It is generally correct to define broom that tool needed for cleaning/sweeping a surface; nevertheless, there could be some people who call that same tool as a brush. This happens due to several linguistic alterations (or: regionalisms), specially in the United Kingdom, that produce a light change in its meaning.
    I think I'd simply say there is regional variation in the terms used.
    But yes, you're essentially right:thumbsup::)
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    I agree that a brush at the end of a long stick is usually a broom, but if the object in question has a long handle but comes with, and is used with pan, I’d might call it a brush.
     
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    Jazz007

    Member
    French
    First of all, there are different types of brushes for different purposes: toothbrush, hair brush, eyebrow brush, hand & nail brush, clothes brush, shoe (polish) brush, paint brush, dish brush, bottle cleaning brush, toilet brush, floor cleaning brush, etc.

    In regard to floor cleaning brush:

    When it has a long handle and soft britles (to sweep dirt away), it may be called a broom. In short, a broom is a brush with a long handle used for sweeping the floor.

    Note before the invention of the modern floor cleaning brushes, people used brooms made of sticks, twigs or straw bound together or attached to a handle. These traditional brooms are still in use in some parts of India, Middle-East, Sounth-East Asia and Africa.
     
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    Jazz007

    Member
    French
    I would never call this a brush, even theoretically.

    View attachment 64194
    What is the definition of a brush?

    Collins dictionary reads:
    "A brush is an object which has a large number of bristles or hairs fixed to it. You use brushes for painting, for cleaning things, and for tidying your hair."

    The tool of whch you showed a photo in your post does answer to the above definition of a brush. So it can be rightly named a (soft floor sweeping) brush. One example: floor Cleaning Brush With Long Handle
    But of course, it can also be named a broom, as I wrote in my previous post.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Our company subscribes to "Broom, Brush and Mop", an industry publication mailed to manufacturers of these items. It would appear that brooms and mops are for the floor, and brushes are for other applications. But that statement is not absolute.

    But note there are also floor brushes for scrubbing the floors. And where does Swiffer fall in?

    Leona Helmsley famously required the housekeeping staff to scrub the floors on their hands and knees using brushes. She also (famously) said, "We don't pay taxes; little people pay taxes."
     

    Jazz007

    Member
    French
    But note there are also floor brushes for scrubbing the floors. And where does Swiffer fall in?

    Floor brushes for scrubbing (with hard bristles that can used wet, with water or cleaning fluids) are also called "scrubbers."

    Swiffer (brand name) floor cleaners with specially designed microfiber fabric are also called "sweepers". As far as I know, these are never called "brush" or "broom".
     

    Jazz007

    Member
    French
    I would never call it a brush in American English and I don't know anybody who would, based on lifelong experience.
    In case you overlooked my first post (#23), I invite you to read it again for complete understanding.

    Let me recap:

    A brush is a generic word for an object which has a large number of bristles or hairs fixed to it that you use for cleaning, painting or tidying things. There are many types of brushes depending on the usage. Without clarifying the context, if you would walk into a store and ask just for a "brush", the sales person will not guess exactly what type of brush you want. If you need a brush for your hair, you'd better ask for "hair brush", if you need a brush to clean a toilet, you'd better ask for "toilet brush", if you need a brush for washing the dishes, you'd better ask for "dish brush", if you need a brush for your nails, you'd better ask for "nail brush", if you need a brush for your eyebrows, you'd better ask for "eyebrow brush", if you need a soft brush with a long handle to sweep the floor, you'd better ask for "broom", etc.

    Regarding the modern(*) floor sweeping brush with a long handle:
    It is called a broom, yes, but you can't take away the fact that it is a brush with a long handle and that other English speakers call it so. Below just a few examples for your reference:
    Soft Bristles Deluxe Floor Sweeping Brush | Konga Online Shopping
    Long Handle Dustpan and Brush Set Floor Sweeping Brush Kitchen Bathroom Tidy Set - OMS Home Store
    https://www.indiamart.com/proddetail/floor-brush-7364970312.html
    Supply HQ Extended Handle Hard Bristle Floor Brush Toilet Toilet Cleaning Cement Floor Brush Floor Wall Tile Floor Brush-

    (*)Note the original form of broom (still popular in non-western countries) is never called a brush:
    History of brooms, who, where, when. Broom making tradition more than 40 years
     
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    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I would never call it a brush in American English and I don't know anybody who would, based on lifelong experience.
    As a Brit, I would never call the brush part of a broom a brush either. (What I call a brush always has its own handle.) So I agree with your sweeping statement.
     

    Jazz007

    Member
    French
    As a Brit, I would never call the brush part of a broom a brush either. (What I call a brush always has its own handle.) So I agree with your sweeping statement.

    I respect everyone's opinion. However, I must say that a personal opinion is irrelevant in this discussion because we are interested in a common language usage. If you can back up your personal opinion with some references, that'd be of great value for us learners of English. I did include in my previous posts some URLs of English websites, where it is apparent that the word "broom" is synomous with the word "floor sweeping brush". I am willing to add below URLs of some online English dictionaries. If you still think that your personal opinion prevails over the English dictionaries, then I don't know what to say.

    WordReference.com:
    broom - WordReference.com Dictionary of English
    a tool for sweeping, made up of a brush on a long handle

    Meriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary:
    Broom - Definition for English-Language Learners from Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary
    a brush that has a long handle and that is used for sweeping floors

    Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:
    broom | meaning of broom in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English | LDOCE
    a large brush with a long handle, used for sweeping floors

    Cambridge English Dictionary:
    broom
    a brush with a long handle, used for cleaning the floor

    Macmillan Dictionary:
    https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/broom
    a brush with a long handle, used for sweeping dirt from floors

    kids.wordsmyth.ne:
    broom | Free On-Line English Dictionary | Thesaurus | Children's, Intermediate Dictionary | Wordsmyth
    a device for sweeping. A broom has a bundle of straw or a brush attached to the end of a long handle.
     
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    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    However, I must say that a personal opinion is irrelevant in this discussion because we are interested in a common language usage.
    The point of language is to communicate with another person. To communicate with that person, your words must go along with their perception of the meaning of words even though you may think it is their "opinion." You cannot tell us all that something is a "brush" when we know it as a "broom."

    The dictionary definitions need to use a word for "broom head" that doesn't include "broom" so that the definition doesn't have a circular reference. That doesn't mean that anyone in real life thinks of a broom as a brush.
     

    Jazz007

    Member
    French
    But it would be pointless and unhelpful, wouldn't it, to define a broom as 'a tool for sweeping, made up of a broom head on a broom handle.'

    A 'broom head' certainly resembles a generic brush, but it's a broom head, not a brush. Ic


    broom heads - Google Search

    >>But it would be pointless and unhelpful, wouldn't it, to define a broom as 'a tool for sweeping, made up of a broom head on a broom handle.'

    As I wrote several times, a broom is "a brush with a long handle used for sweeping the floor". I've never used the term "broom head" because it makes no sense to use the term you want to define in the definition.

    >>A 'broom head' certainly resembles a generic brush, but it's a broom head, not a brush.

    As I wrote previously (#23, #35), "brush" is a generic term and without clarifying the context, nobody would understand what ustensil it is. This is true also for hair brush, toilet brush, nail brush, shoe polish brush, etc. Therefore, I wrote that it'd better to say "broom" or "floor sweeping brush" instead oif just "brush".
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    English - SSBE Standard British
    The challenge for writers of dictionary definitions is you have to use words to define other words. In some cases, there is a convenient hypernym. For example, if you want to define a gooseberry or a polecat, you have handy superordinate terms like 'fruit' or 'animal' to get you started.

    Unfortunately, there is no hypernym to help you explain what brushes and brooms are. So, when we want to define 'broom' for learners, the simplest way to describe the 'brush-like end bit with the bristles on' is 'brush'. This part of the broom is not a brush in itself - it's a broom head. But as Heypresto pointed out, a definition of 'broom' wouldn't be much use if it included the word 'broom', would it? Nobody actually calls the business end of a broom a brush, but referring to it as a 'brush' in a dictionary definition is a useful workaround, faute de mieux.

    It's also worth bearing in mind that 'brush' is a much higher-frequency word than 'broom'. The compilers of learners' dictionaries are aware that the majority of elementary-level learners will be familiar with what a 'brush' is English: this makes it a helpful word to use when explaining the much lower-frequency term 'broom'. This doesn't mean that anyone actually uses the word 'brush' in this way in the real world.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    I looked at the four websites in #35.
    Konga is a Nigerian site
    Indiamart is an Indian site
    Supply HQ is a Chinese site
    English is the official language of Nigeria, and English is one of the official languages of India. So I deduce that in Nigerian and Indian English, 'floor brush' equals 'broom' in AmE or BrE.
    As for the Chinese site, I suspect that the person who wrote the text for that broom-like object used 'brush' because it's a more all-encompassing term than 'broom.' Also, the English on that site is far from native-like.

    OMS is a site in the UK, but I think the use of 'brush' here follows the exception that You little ripper! noted in post 22. The name of the product is 'Long Handle Dustpan and Brush Set' which is different from 'dustpan and long handle brush.' To me it means 'dustpan and brush where the brush, unusually enough, has a long handle.'
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Never in a million years would I have associated brooms with brushes. They’re completely distinct things in my mind. Yes, “brush” is unspecific and there are many kinds of brushes, but a broom is not one of them.
    "broom" or "floor sweeping brush"
    If you asked me for the latter, I would be completely baffled and wouldn’t know what to give you. I certainly wouldn’t think you wanted a broom, though.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I'm not sure what sort of website could show examples of meaning that weren't personal opinion. The English dialect atlas I linked to above, and of course the OED, find out what to put in their authoritative guides by examining how a whole lot of people (across the country, or across time) use the words.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Please give us a public reference to back up your statement.
    I don't want to debate personal opinions.
    You have to understand that dictionaries and other reference works on language are intended to reflect real-world usage, what you are dismissing as “personal opinions.” If a dictionary entry clashes with the usage of many native speakers, then the thing to question is the dictionary, not what the natives are saying. Dictionaries aren’t perfect, and it’s incredibly naive to blindly accept their every pronouncement and/or to refuse to accept any aspect of usage that they don’t record. Finally, if you’re only interested in what reference works say, you’re in the wrong place. We’re not here to regurgitate what reference works say, but to discuss language through the lens of real-world usage in ways dictionaries don’t. There may be other forums out there where all people do is exchange dictionary entries.
     
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    Jazz007

    Member
    French
    I looked at the four websites in #35.
    Konga is a Nigerian site
    Indiamart is an Indian site
    Supply HQ is a Chinese site
    English is the official language of Nigeria, and English is one of the official languages of India. So I deduce that in Nigerian and Indian English, 'floor brush' equals 'broom' in AmE or BrE.

    Amazon US website:

    Fuller Brush Fiesta Red Kitchen Broom
    https://www.amazon.com/Fuller-Brush-Fiesta-Kitchen-Complete/dp/B06ZYKGL5Q/ref=sr_1_6?keywords=floor+sweeping+brush&qid=1638215959&sr=8-6&th=1

    Yocada Push Broom Brush
    https://www.amazon.com/Yocada-Brist...sh&qid=1638215959&smid=A2S9CABUUPYHJW&sr=8-26

    Fuller Brush Kitchen Broom Head
    https://www.amazon.com/Fuller-Brush...ds=floor+sweeping+brush&qid=1638215959&sr=8-8

    Fuller Brush Deep Reach Black Slender Broom Head with Dustpan Set
    https://www.amazon.com/Fuller-Brush...s=floor+sweeping+brush&qid=1638215959&sr=8-19

    Note the usage of both "brush" and "broom" terms in the same product description.
    As I explained in one of my previous posts, people originally used brooms for cleaning floors.
    Original forms of brooms are still used in Africa, India, Asia, Middle-East.
    However, in western countries, original brooms have disapeared (they remain only in children books: Witch broom.)
    Modern brooms are made of large brushes with long handle.
    In other words, a modern broom is a brush with a long handle as clearly stated in many English dictionaries.
    I understand that some of you in this forum a trying hard to deny the definition from the dictionaries.
    Frankly, I don't know what else to tell you in order to convince you.
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    There are no official English dictionaries. English dictionaries are made by people interested in words who like that sort of work. They define words as best they understand them using words that are as close as possible. Sometimes that's easy and sometimes it's hard. If they do a bad job, they risk going out of business. But we don't use words because they are in a dictionary. We use words because they are, by consensus, the words that are used in the area where the variety of English we speak is spoken. Dictionaries try to capture that usage as best they can. Dictionaries come from spoken and written language. Spoken and written language does not come from dictionaries by decree.

    When I told you I would never use brush in reference to a broom, that's exactly what I meant. I don't recognize that word as a meaningful description of the thing I use to sweep my kitchen floor so I would never use it that way. In the decades I've been speaking English, I have never heard a fellow AE speaker use it that way. That's more important than any theoretical definition in a dictionary. Usage trumps dictionaries and I have heard the word broom used thousands of times for the tool that sweeps floors that are dry and I have never heard brush used in the context of floors except in contexts where water is involved. Those are scrub brushes.

    If you lay out a variety of brushes and a broom in a line and ask someone who lives where I do to point to the brushes, no one I know will point to the broom. That's not what it is here, regardless of what a dictionary definition says.
     
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    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I've never used the term "broom head"
    We have, and we do, and I recommend you use it too. It's what they are called. These are not brushes, they are broom heads:

    71z2u8KMA1L._AC_SL1500_.jpg
    102916_00673b5f-d16b-4752-a774-fb79783162f9.jpg
    2807.jpg


    This is true also for hair brush, toilet brush, nail brush, shoe polish brush, etc. Therefore, I wrote that it'd better to say "broom" or "floor sweeping brush" instead oif just "brush".
    But we don't call it a brush. We call it a 'broom head.' And we don't call a broom, or a broom head, a 'floor sweeping brush.'
     
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