pupil or student

Discussion in 'English Only' started by blackrosie, Dec 30, 2008.

  1. blackrosie New Member

    I wonder if anyone could clearly explain the difference between the words pupil and student in English. Thanks for your time.
  2. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member


    If you type pupil student into the Dictionary Look-up box at the top of the page, set to English, you get, for example, this previous link.

    Hope that helps!
  3. blackrosie New Member

    Thanks for your link. I've read that the word pupil is a bit obsolete and now all teachers address the people they are teaching as students, not pupils. Anyone who can tell me about that?
  4. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Blackrosie, what exactly is your question? Can you give us a sample sentence that you read or that you want to write so we can comment?
  5. blackrosie New Member

    My question is: Is it correct to call, let's say for example a 12-year-old boy, a student or should I call him a pupil? Is there any difference in use?
  6. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    OK, but you said you just read the answer in another thread. Is that the information you were looking for, or is there something else?
  7. blackrosie New Member

    A French lecturer working in Britain said she was surprised that all teachers said 'students', not 'pupils' and, like her, I was taught the word student could only be used for people studying at university whereas the word pupil was used for primary and secondary school. Is that true?
  8. TriglavNationalPark

    TriglavNationalPark Senior Member

    Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    Some English teachers in continental Europe continue to use words that have become rare or archaic in much of the English-speaking world. I believe this is one such case; even a first grader is commonly called a student in many (most?) English-speaking countries.
  9. blackrosie New Member

    Thanks for your helpful comment.
  10. teksch Senior Member

    San Diego, California
    English - American
    If the 12 year old boy attends school he could be called either a pupil or a student. I hear both terms used in the western U.S. An instructor is more apt to use the word pupil to refer to those being instructed and a parent would be more apt to use the word student to refer to their child.
  11. Redshade Banned

    In the UK in the vernacular it would always be "pupil" when refering to a primary or secondary school attendee,
    as in "My Tommy's a pupil at Westwood High".
    The term "student " to refer to anyone not at university would
    not have been used until it started to infiltrate BE in the 80s ,mainly used by professionals in the education system to include
    those in secondary school.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2008
  12. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    There's enough evidence out there on the internet (what's that?) to indicate that
    • pupil is still used for kids at school and that
    • student is used for further education.
    What is the border line when it is further?

    Of course, student potentially sounds better, but in my days students were those idiots that spent too much time drinking etc and not actually learning much. Thus "students" was often used pejoratively.


    Actually looking at the definitions of thers word in more than one dictionary is interesting. There is some evidence that pupil may be more used in the UK (& the old dominions?) than in the US
  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    That makes sense to me as well.

    I had a look around some school websites.
    Primary schools still sometimes refer to pupils - but mostly they talk about children.

    Secondary schools (11-18) seem to refer to pupils or students.

    So in my part of the world it would be entirely natural to talk about pupils of these schools. Many of the schools do.

    But that is not to say that the pupils or their parents do the same. I think the need for the term does not often arise in normal conversation amongst parents or children. So "My Tommy goes to Westwood High." "I go to Eastland Prep."
  14. Aardvark01

    Aardvark01 Senior Member

    Midlands, England
    British English (Midlands)
    When I was at school in the 70's we were pupils up until 'O' levels (GCSE's now) when aged about 15.
    If we stayed on or went to college to do 'A' levels or foundation courses (before going to polytechnic/university) we became students at that point.
  15. El escoces Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    English - UK
    I was a pupil until I went to university, when I became a student (after which I learned quite a lot actually, and rarely drank too much).

    My only contact with the UK (school) education system now is through two friends who are both primary school teachers - they still refer to pupils.
  16. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    When I taught secondary school 25 years ago, I always referred to my students, and this was also the universal practice of my fellow teachers. I never called them "pupils", nor did I ever hear any other teacher use the word, although I certainly am not ignorant of the existence of the term.

    I think there is an AE/BE difference here.
  17. MikeLynn

    MikeLynn Senior Member

    When I was 32 and in college, one of my, Czech, teachers would address us as pupils. Considering the fact that most of the students were my age or older and most of them had families, ti did sound a bit funny. I do realize that there is no red borderline dividing these two terms there should be some kind of common sense-a pupil meaning young, uneducated while a student should be used for people of certain age who have studied and learned and ate no "dummies" anymore.
    The question is: does it have to do something with respect inn the teacher-student relationship? That's the way most of us felt about it and that's why we didn't like it very much :confused:
  18. Transatlantic Member

    srpskohrvatski; English
    In Canada (actually, in Ontario - I'm not sure about other provinces), the word pupil is uncommon and it would certainly sound strange to me. All the teachers and parents I know only ever talk about "students". Unlike the example from British English above, you'd probably never hear a sentence like "My Tommy is a pupil at _________."

    If pupil is used at all, I suspect it might be used to refer to elementary school students. But really, the only time I hear or use this word is when talking to my optometrist :)
  19. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    My trusted adviser on things like this is my wife, who retired after 30 years of teaching at the elementary, middle-school and junior-high level. (Oregon, Montana and Indiana)

    Her comment is that the young humans thirsting for knowledge therein were always called "students" regardless of grade level.

    As an additional comment, note that these schools had "student councils." I never heard of a "pupil council."
  20. OliviaV Member

    As an additional comment, note that these schools had "student councils." I never heard of a "pupil council."

    This is very true. No one really says "pupil council" because it just sounds wrong, although technically it is still okay, and i have heard it before.

    There truley is no significant difference between 'pupil' and 'student'. I think it more has to do with the situation you use them in.

    For example, I am a dance 'student'. No one would ever say I am a Dance 'pupil'. But that does no mean that 'Dance pupil' is incorrect. It just isn't common, 'dance student' just sounds better.
  21. LGT Senior Member

    English (England)
    Just resurrecting an old thread to see if anyone has anything further/more concrete to add on this.

    I think of pupil as a little more old-fashioned than student and would prefer the former for younger children, i.e. "my 8-year old twins are pupils at the local primary school".

    I'm struggling, however, with how to translate élèves attending collège or lycée - students does I think sound more appropriate but are there any hard and fast rules about when to use one as opposed to the other? My Collins English dictionary says that a student is " a person following a course of study in a school, college or university", whilst a pupil is "a student who is taught by a teacher". This seems to emphasise the method of study, as it were.

    Neither the Times style guide nor that of the Guardian has anything to say on the subject; it may simply be that it's a matter of personal preference. any input much appreciated!
  22. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    I draw an alliterative line and refer to 'primary (school) pupils' and 'secondary (school) students'.
  23. LGT Senior Member

    English (England)
    That's a good idea, Pickarooney! Just to confuse matters further, thought, what would you do for middle school attendees?!
  24. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    I've never been in a situation which involved middle schoolers (I don't know what a middle school is exactly). Most likely 'student' though.
  25. LGT Senior Member

    English (England)
    Thanks Pickarooney

    In some counties in the UK (mainly Midlands, I think) middle schools are still the norm although I think they're generally being phased out. They cater to children from the ages of 9 - 13 (i.e. year 5 through to year 8). You then go on to high school at age 13, starting in year 9.

    Certainly, when I was at middle school (around 15 years ago) we were referred to as pupils.
  26. elvee Member

    Martinique, France
    English - USA
    Whenever I tell people about my élèves (who are in lycée), I always use the word student. That being said, the word pupil is not one that I would ever use.

    I agree with this post:
  27. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Well, I went to school (in the BE use of that word: ages up to 17-18) in the 60's in the UK and the distinction was pretty clear - pupils were at school and students were at university or college.

    Then I went to university and was a student.

    It seems as though in AmE the word pupil has not been used for so long that it's considered quaint or antique (or at least old-fashioned). In the UK it seems that, after I left in the mid-70's, the word student started being used for humans of younger age and that BrE usage is now converging on that of AmE, possibly inresponse to the evolution of the education system and the general desirability of euphemisms and status :D
    Current status: "Pupil would only ever be used in a BrE situation and may sound quaint even to the younger humans in that setting"?
  28. I just wish I could use this forum to justify my reason to use "student" more than "pupil" in the material I am working with right now.

    >It is difficult to deal with those who do not understand that language evolves.<
    Moderator may delete this comment since it is off-topic, but yes, just want to voice it out.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2013
  29. GeriReshef

    GeriReshef Senior Member

    Pupil vs. student: when and where we should use each term? (Primary school? secondary? university?)
    <Second question removed. Nat>
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 30, 2016
  30. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Moderator note: Geri's thread has been merged with an earlier thread.

    Please scroll up for earlier comments. It should be clear that there is variation between AmE and BrE. Pupil appears obsolescent in AmE but is still used in BrE, particularly for children at primary school. Children, schoolchildren (schoolboy, schoolgirl) are other alternatives.

  31. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    This updated discussion has been moved from another thread, where it was off-topic.
    Cagey, moderator

    (In BE student refers only to young people at university or equivalent - 18 year-old and older, typically. Pupil is someone who is younger than that going to school, not university or college)
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 22, 2017
  32. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    I see. So, you say "primary/secondary school pupils" instead of "primary/secondary school students". That's really good to know.
  33. london calling Senior Member

    Not any more, Julian.:)

    They call them students these days according to a UK primary school teacher who takes part in the Italian-English forum (she corrected me when I said the same thing you have just said).

    The times they are a' changin'.:D
  34. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I almost put a disclaimer related to "era" (or even (a)eon) in my post :). Still, it will apply to a lot of historical English (if that now refers to >30 years ago :eek: ) Is the change driven by influence of AE or PC I wonder.
  35. london calling Senior Member

    I've been out of the country for 36 years myself.:D

    I have no idea why this has come about and I'm also pretty sure 'pupils' is still used , regardless of what the teachers say.:) I still have trouble talking about an 11-year-old student. Anyway, this is for another thread....
  36. dojibear Senior Member

    Fresno CA
    English - Northeast US
    Awww....I just learned about "pupil" yesterday, and now I have to un-learn it?

    Someday I will learn to speak British English...after I get fluent in Japanese, which may be easier...:rolleyes:
  37. kentix Senior Member

    English - U.S.
    I've heard both pupil and student my whole life in the U.S. I would definitely say student is more common at all levels but I've heard pupil on many occasions. Perhaps it has to do with the context and the age of the speaker. (But I've never heard pupil as a reference to college/university students.)

    I have a sense (but could be wrong) that pupils might be used more in plural contexts.

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