Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm looking for a synonym for man-made (i.e., not naturally occurring) that doesn't imply it was made by humans. "Fabricated" or "constructed" are the closest I've come, but I'm not very happy with either of them. Does anyone have some other suggestions?

Edit: Thanks for all the great suggestions! To clarify a bit further: what I mean by "natural" would be something like a rock, cliff or mountain, a tree or forest, a stream or natural lake. The word I'm looking for would refer to anything made by some creature, be it a human, animal, ghost or alien.

share|improve this question
Why don't you like those words? – Matt E. Эллен Jun 17 '14 at 13:36
Do you mean something like a bird's nest? – WS2 Jun 17 '14 at 13:38
Something made by aliens? – Matt Gutting Jun 17 '14 at 13:39
Ok, so something 'artificial' probably. – Josh61 Jun 17 '14 at 13:46
I'm thinking a rock or canyon are natural occurrences but a bird's nest is manufactured by a bird in that a bunch of twigs didn't fall together, blown about by the wind. – Kristina Lopez Jun 17 '14 at 14:13

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Fabricated or artificial are your best bests. In fact, artificial is the opposite of natural.

Artificial, adj: not natural or real : made, produced, or done to seem like something natural

share|improve this answer
Include supporting references, else it could constitute a comment only. – Kris Jun 17 '14 at 14:15
Fixed, added a definition with a link – Andy Jun 17 '14 at 14:45
I still would not consider a bird's nest artificial (unless it were man-made). – oerkelens Jun 17 '14 at 14:48
@oerkelens It depends on context. If I were on an alien planet that was unknown to have life, and I found a nest I would certainly report back: "Found evidence of a possible artificial structure." – called2voyage Jun 17 '14 at 16:59
@oerkelens Imagine a dam built by a beaver. While a dam can happen naturally by coincidence (flotsam building up and blocking off the water or landslide, etc), what do you call it when a beaver makes one intentionally? It's not natural, it was built with intent. It's not it's what? artificial works well, as in an artificial dam. – Doc Jun 17 '14 at 20:10

The term synthetic comes to mind, as well as its synonyms fabricated, manufactured, and constructed.

share|improve this answer
I trust that the OP can look up the words in a dictionary or thesaurus, and providing the definitions here would just be a waste of space. This is an answer to the question, so it does not belong as a comment. Unless you can include supporting references for your suggestion, of course! – Kevin Workman Jun 17 '14 at 14:17
No, not at all. – Kris Jun 17 '14 at 14:25
I don't see anywhere in your link that dictates that answers without references should be comments. In fact, I seem to recall a meta discussion suggesting that long-winded explanations and copy-pastes from dictionaries are discouraged! – Kevin Workman Jun 17 '14 at 14:27
Kevin Workman, rather than adding references and supporting quotes in comments, edit them into the question. Note, I can't reverse my downvote for lack of references until after you edit the question, due to it getting locked in after 5 minutes. – jwpat7 Jun 17 '14 at 15:30
@ Kevin: From the Help page for How to Answer: Links to external resources are encouraged, but please add context. If in fact there's nothing else to say apart from providing a list of candidate words, that does rather suggest the question should be closed rather than answered (ELU isn't a "human-powered" online thesaurus). – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 17:45

Consider made.

  1. Produced or created artificially: bought some made goods at the local store.

  2. artificially produced; not originating in nature: made fur.

share|improve this answer
Like a canyon made by a river? – Beta Jun 17 '14 at 19:23
@Beta: It is a different usage. I'm talking about the adjective. Check the definition. – ermanen Jun 17 '14 at 21:00


"This includes nonhuman artifacts such as spiders' webs, beavers' dams, and chimpanzees' termite-fishing sticks."

share|improve this answer

Perhaps the objects you're thinking about are those that might be considered designed. Designed in the sense that is often contrasted with evolved.

A bird's nest or spider's web is constructed, but they are not designed. The animals construct them, according to their evolved instincts, without planning or knowledge of their purpose.

share|improve this answer
Sure? "not designed ... without planning or knowledge of their purpose?" – Kris Jun 17 '14 at 14:48
I'll go with that. If we found something on Mars that seemed to have been designed, we'd take that as evidence for the existence of intelligent alien life. If we later found that it was the alien equivalent of a wasp nest, for example (and that the aliens were actually no smarter than wasps), we'd probably stop using that word for their "artefacts". – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 17:27
That's one sense of design. There is another in common use that describes intricate functional arrangements that involved no intelligence or purpose, such as coral reefs or animal anatomy. We can say that the design on a peacock's tail attracts mates, and that our brains were designed to cope with social interaction, without implying any intelligent artists or engineers. P.S. Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet use the word in those two senses, respectively. – Beta Jun 17 '14 at 19:33
Additionally, "evolved" used to mean "something that is the result of some design", until Darwin took it and used it to mean the overall change resulting from selection pressure on a population – AJMansfield Jun 18 '14 at 20:00

"Man-made," like "man" and "mankind," has become embroiled in the whole gender-neutral language issue. So it is legitimate to look for variants, especially in contexts where your usage affects how your work is received by its likely audience. I'm sorry that the tone of some of these comments is flippant, because the question deserves a serious answer. Many of the alternatives offered would fit, some obviously better than others in certain contexts. That's the nature of language: there are no true synonyms, and nuances of meaning in similar words make it necessary to think carefully before choosing which to use in a given context.

share|improve this answer
While this may be true it doesn't answer the question which seeks a word for a non-human fabrication, not simply a gender neutral word for a human fabrication. – Chenmunka Aug 12 '14 at 18:38
This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. – TimLymington Aug 12 '14 at 21:51

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.