Fall Vs. Autumn: Why Are There Two Names?

When summer ends and leaves begin to change colors, it’s clear that fall has finally come… or is it autumn? In the English language, there are two different ways to describe this time of year. They are both officially right, but sometimes it is more common to use one over the other.

History of “Autumn” and “Fall”

Autumn leaves on a tree

At one point, English-speaking cultures only knew one season: winter. They marked time by how many winters passed. The word “autumn” was first used in the late 1300s to talk about the season of harvest before winter. The word “fall” appeared 300 years later. However, in the 1900s, “fall” began to be known as an American word. It is now more commonly used in America than it is in England, according to Writing Explained.

Formality of “Autumn” vs. “Fall”

It is never technically wrong to use the word “fall” to describe the season, but many think it is more formal to use the word “autumn.” This is likely due to its British roots. Because of this, some Americans may think it is strange if you use the word “autumn” regularly, and not “fall.” However, if practicing or learning English in Great Britain, you may find that “autumn” is the more common choice.

Problems With Using “Fall”

Although “autumn” is considered more formal, there are some situations where it is better to use it. This is because the word “fall” has many meanings. It can refer to the season, or it can refer to slipping, dropping, or tumbling. You can also “fall in love” or “fall asleep.” So if you happen to be using these meanings of “fall” in the same sentence as, for example, “what to do in New York City during the fall,” it may be easier to use the term “autumn” instead of “the fall” to avoid confusion. Or, you can take advantage of this double meaning by making a common American joke for when someone slips: “Have a nice trip; see you next fall!”

It’s not always easy to learn English, but the right program can explain all of the tricky words such as “autumn” and “fall.” If you’re interested in working on your English skills in an immersive environment, register with ALCC American Language online today!

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