Word Choice – Student Versus Pupil

Odesh’s question: “When would you use the word ‘pupil’ as opposed to ‘student’? I thought ‘pupil’ was more British and referred to younger people. ‘Student’ would refer to people in high school and university.”

BizWritingTip response: According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, a pupil is “a person taught by another, esp. a schoolchild or student.”

It defines a student as “a person who is studying, esp. at university, college, etc.” The dictionary also lists an additional interpretation: a student in North America is “a school pupil.”

Confused? I think the New Oxford American Dictionary explains it best: “A student is a learner, or someone who attends an educational institution. In some nations, the English term (or its cognate in another language) is reserved for those who attend university, while a schoolchild under the age of eighteen is called a pupil in English (or an equivalent in other languages).

“In its widest use, student is used for anyone who is learning.”