difference between post mortem and post humous


New Member
Could someone please explain the difference of these two words - postmortem and posthumous? I do not have any sentences, but just general differentiation. Thanks.
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Welcome pisium!
    While forum rules typically require some sort of context and background to explain differences such as these, it is possible to say that "postmortem" is often used as a noun or to describe the events shortly after someone's death, posthumous is more general and is only used as an adjective describing events, such as awards, occurring sometimes long after someone's death. If you want anything more specific (and beyond what the dictionaries provide - see the search box at the top of the page, and then use the "in context" link to see examples) you will need a context and background or proposed sentence.


    New Member
    Hello Gramman and JulianStuart...

    Thank you both for the explanation. That is exactly where it confuses me when they are both used as an adjective and mean events happening after death. JulianStuart, in your example, you said postmortem is used to refer to events shortly after sb's death, and posthumous is more general and describes an event long after sb's death.

    Sorry, I am not sure if this clears my puzzle or worsens it. For example. He was born posthumously. She was exhumed seven years after her mysterious death, and now the coroner is going to conduct a postmortem autopsy. Well, personally I think postmortem is redundant in here unless I mean a live autopsy.

    Also, when you say posthumous is more general, do you mean it has more general use, or is it less specific? Or postmortem is limited to only several fixed expressions like postmortem autopsy..?

    I know, I know, my questions are starting to beg sample sentences as required by the forum rules, so I stop here now... :) But rather, I would like to know some examples where and how either of them is used.

    ps - JulianStuart, your avatar makes me think of Munchu women's headdresses.. :)
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    You can't be born posthumously! Unless you mean reincarnation :) Where did you see such a sentence?
    "A postmortem" is used as a noun and is a specific medical procedure - also known as an autopsy. Postmortem is more "technical and commonly used in contexts where the physical state of the body and changes after the instant of death are being discussed. A literary genius or composer's works may be published posthumously, or someone may receive an award or become famous after they die - that wold not bedescribed as postmortem, but posthumously etc.

    The best way to get a feel for their use is the "in context" link in the dictionary


    New Member
    Hi again JulianStuart. Thanks for the fast answer. When I was reading the Family Law Act, the heading of section 91.1 says
    Posthumous births if conception after death http://www.leg.bc.ca/39th4th/3rd_read/gov16-3.htm



    Senior Member
    English - England
    Posthumous births if conception after death
    As that is, on the face of it, a difficult concept, :eek: it is worth quoting the Act
    Posthumous births if conception after death91.1 (1) A descendant of a deceased person, conceived and born after the person's death, inherits as if the descendant had been born in the lifetime of the deceased person and had survived the deceased person ...

    A. Posthumous: adj. 1. Of an action, reputation, etc.: occurring, arising, or continuing after death.
    1966 P. Larkin in Crit. Q. 8 174 Hardy's reputation has not taken the accustomed posthumous dip: his books have continued to sell.

    A. Postmortem adv. After death.
    B. adj. Taking place, formed, or done after death. Also in extended use: after the conclusion of a matter
    1996 Times 20 May 3/7 Post-mortem examinations will be held today to discover how they died.

    The usual difference seems to be that in the case of posthumous, death does not prevent the action continuing or being originated for the deceased's reputation or character, whereas with postmortem, something is done to the deceased's body (adv.) or is reliant upon the death (adj.).


    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    This may be the rare case where etymology helps clear things up.

    Post+mortem = after [one's own] death
    Post+humous = after the death [of one's parent/originator]

    So if I impregnate some nice girl, and then I die, my child will be born posthumously - it comes after the death of me, its father. When the coroner examines my body to find out whether or not that nice girl killed me, then my exam will be done postmortem - it comes after my own death.

    When we honor someone with an award, we do it posthumously, since the award is given after the death of the person who inspired/originated our desire to give the award.

    There is, unfortunately, such a thing as postmortem (and posthumous) birth - the mother gives birth after her own death:
    Coffin birth, known in academia by the more accurate term postmortem fetal extrusion,[1][2] is the expulsion of a nonviable fetus through the vaginalopening of the decomposing body of a pregnant woman as a result of the increasing pressure of intraabdominal gases. This kind of postmortem delivery occurs very rarely during the decomposition of a body. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffin_birth)
    In other words: postmortem = after one's own death; posthumous = after the death of someone else.


    New Member
    Thank you everyone..

    It is said an idea gets clear through discussions. This is no exception..

    This nuanced difference of postmortem and posthumous had been puzzling me for years, and now it can RIP. For that , thank you all.. :)