Autumn vs. Fall: One Season, Two Words

The air is cool, there’s a cornucopia of colors in the air, you sip a hot drink and feel the crisp air. Ah, fall ... or is it autumn? The terms are often used interchangeably, but are they really the same? Explore the origins of fall and autumn, as well as when and where they’re used.

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Are Autumn and Fall the Same Thing?

The simple answer to the question of whether autumn and fall are synonymous is yes. The distinction is not about their differences, but their origins. Autumn is an older word that dates back to the 14th-century Latin word autumnus. However, its origins remain mysterious. This mystery and the more lyrical sound of autumn have made it the favored term for poets. However, fall also has a poetic ring because it is the time when the leaves fall. No matter what you call it, the season begins with the September equinox (between September 21 and 24) and ends with the winter solstice (December 21 or 22).

Unlike other American vs. British terms, both fall and autumn originated in Britain, and both terms are used on that side of the pond. However, fall appears to be typically preferred in America, while autumn has been favored in Britain from the 18th century on.

Origin and Examples of Autumn

Autumn originated in the 1300s and has endured in popularity to this day. It is the preferred term for the season in Britain and Australia, though both countries use fall as well.

  • Autumn is my favorite season.

  • The artist used autumnal colors in his painting.

  • I can’t wait for autumn!

History and Usage of Fall

Fall's history is long and even literary. It likely stems from a 16th-century phrase "the fall of the leaves." The word fall potentially derives from the Old English words fiaell and feallan which mean "to fall from a height." Although it got a late start compared to autumn, it appears to have surpassed it in popularity in America. While it is a popular name for the season now, fall did not appear in an English dictionary until 1755, and it would take a couple more centuries to surpass autumn and become a common term in the U.K. and Canada.

  • The fall festival is on Sunday.
  • I love fall!
  • We're going to have a cold fall this year.
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Don’t Fall For Commonly Confused Words

While fall and autumn can be used interchangeably, not all commonly confused terms can be. Explore some words that are slightly different in American and British English such as while and whilst. Then, keep reading if you're still curious about whether or not to capitalize seasons. Finally, check out words related to autumn (or fall).