Is Autumn the Same Thing as Fall?

Pinecone and berries in a basket in New York CityThe season right after summer is called autumn. Or, is it fall? When you’re learning English, it can be easy to accidentally mix up words that sound similar or have similar meanings. So, do fall and autumn mean different things? Or are they simply two words for the same thing?

Why Is Autumn Called Fall?

The season we call ‘fall,’ which lasts from September through November, used to be called ‘harvest.’ It was the time of year farmers gathered the fruits, vegetables, and grains that were fully grown. The American holiday Thanksgiving started as a harvest festival. It is still celebrated today as a way of being grateful for the food and blessings we have received over the past year.

As time went on and people moved to cities, the importance of a good harvest lessened. English speakers have borrowed words from many different languages over time. The French word for the third season became the basis of the new name ‘autumn.’ People also referred to the springtime using the French word ‘primetemps.’

Around the same time as primetemps and autumn, people began referring to these two times of year as ‘the spring of the leaf and the fall of the leaf,’ based on the fact that tree leaves bud, or start to grow, in spring and then fall off in autumn. Eventually, this phrase was shortened to just ‘spring’ and ‘fall.’

American vs. British English

Both fall and autumn are correct words for this season. It just depends on who you’re talking to. Both words developed around the same time the British were colonizing the land that became the United States. When the colonists came over, they used the word ‘fall,’ which quickly spread among all the people in America. The British back in England decided to use autumn instead.

Even though it isn’t wrong to use fall or autumn, sometimes Americans think autumn sounds too formal, while British think fall sounds odd. Because differences in American and British English are so common, it’s best just to use the word your conversation partner uses.

If you want to make the most of your fall/autumn, enroll in one of our English courses and expand your vocabulary even further.


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