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In English there is only one word for grade of friendship: friends. All of you agree that friends are different: with some of them you just drank beer few times, other you know for many years and you build strong bonds to them. There should be different words for that!

In Russian there are three words for different grades of friendship:

  1. You met few times.
  2. You meet regularly, spend time, but don't have strong bonds.
  3. You are important to each other, bonds are strong. (Usually people have 1-10 friends of that sort)

So I am interested, are there commonly used words to denote different gradations of friendship in English?

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1) Друг doesn't necessarily imply strong bonds in Russian, either. In fact, it doesn't even have to imply that you've seen that person before, or plan on ever seeing them again. 2) What about товарищ, дружок, друган, френд; знакомая, приятельница, подруга, подружка... — should these have exact equivalents in English, too? Why? –  RegDwigнt Apr 4 '11 at 11:37
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@Andrey: 1) Everyone and his grandma uses "Дорогие друзья!" to address people they have never met before and don't plan on meeting ever again. "Белый друг" refers to the toilet bowl. I could go on, but that's not my point; my point is that the distinction is not anywhere as cut and dried. 2) Out of the 8 words I listed, only 2 can be considered slang. The rest can be safely used in all registers. Again, all I'm saying is that the distinction you make is somewhat arbitrary. Surely a valid thing to point out. –  RegDwigнt Apr 4 '11 at 12:49
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@Andrey: Ignoring the whole Russian thing, I suspect most Thesauruses have lists of synonyms for friend. Mine even listed a "word spectrum" between friend and foe. Connotations will shift drastically and the answers are providing a good start. –  MrHen Apr 4 '11 at 15:03
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I think speakers in general often don't want to be too specific about exactly how close any particular friendship might be. Exactly the same degree of amity (if such a quality could be objectively quantified) might have wildly varying subjective significance to different speakers. And we don't usually want to offend our less intimate acquaintances by using words that clearly identify them as such. –  FumbleFingers Apr 4 '11 at 15:06
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Facebook Friends ==> Lowest form of friendship. –  Ben Apr 4 '11 at 18:54
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7 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I think they might be: 1. Acquaintance 2. Friend/buddy/mate 3. Best friend

I know the last one may not be a true synonym, but it's the best I've got.

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I'd use buddy or mate for people I know really well (in 'category 3'). –  Ankur Banerjee Apr 4 '11 at 10:31
    
First one is very accurate, thanks for new word! Others I think are not that accurate. Best friend is like 4th grade, even stronger than 3rd. –  Andrey Apr 4 '11 at 10:40
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We tend to use the amazingly inventive phrase "good friend" as a step between "friend" and "best friend" –  snumpy Apr 4 '11 at 11:06
    
Yes. I would rank it as: 1. Acquaintance 2. Friend 3. Buddy 4. Best friend. Depending on the context, Co-worker would go into slot 1.5. –  Wayne May 12 '11 at 17:11
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Here's a few colloquialisms to add to the spectrum:

  • Friends with benefits: A sexual or near-sexual and emotional relationship between two people who don't expect or demand to share a formal romantic relationship.
  • Frenemy: A portmanteau of the words fr(iend) and enemy, the term frenemy refers to someone who pretends to be a friend but actually is an enemy—a proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing in the world of friendships.
  • BFF: (Best Friend Forever) Slang used primarily in the USA by teenage and young adult women to describe a girl friend or close best friend.
  • Brother from another mother: a good friend that is more like a brother.
  • Wingman: a friend (male) who helps you find a sexual partner for the night by speaking highly of you.

sources: Wikipedia and The Online Slang Dictionary

Plus a whole host of nuanced urban slang words used for friends such as cuz, homey, dawg, peeps, etc.

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Add to this "Facebook Friends" aka the lowest form of friendship. –  Ben Apr 4 '11 at 18:53
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Here is my list of generic words (possibly colloquial but not so recently mainstream) in the friend/enemy scale:

  • enemy
  • adversary
  • stranger
  • passing acquaintance
  • acquaintance
  • associate
  • colleague
  • ally
  • comrade
  • companion
  • friend
  • pal/buddy/mate/chum (very colloquial/somewhat male directed)
  • good friend
  • best friend

Of course, some of those in the middle have connotations that are not necessarily 'friend-like', but they fill out the interior of the scale.

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It feels like this tries to make a 1-dimensional list out of 2-dimensional data: how well you know them & how much you like each other. –  JCooper Apr 4 '11 at 19:52
    
I think that's exactly my point about 'some of those in the middle have connotations that are not necessarily friend-like'. Visual Thesaurus gives a 2-D (or rather infinite dimensional) view of things; any connotation is a edge to another node, and those edges can go in any direction. I was shoehorning that set according to the OPs seeking different degrees of friendship, a single scale. –  Mitch Apr 4 '11 at 22:01
    
Where does "crony" fit in your scale? :-) –  Scott Mitchell Apr 4 '11 at 22:58
    
@Scott: to take that seriously, somewhere between ally and companion inclusive. –  Mitch Apr 4 '11 at 23:07
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As I think Denis Leary once said,

A friend is someone who will help you move. A true friend is someone who will help you move a body.

Despite what others have said, an acquaintance is not really a friend.

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no one said it is friend. It is first step in friendship scale. –  Andrey Apr 4 '11 at 13:20
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  • acquaintances
  • associates
  • buddy
  • friends
  • close friends
  • best friends
  • "brother in all but blood"/"brother from another mother"/"foster brother"/"soul brother" (and feminine forms using sister, instead)

I'll note that, at least in my group of associates, buddy is LESS than friend. it's someone that one willingly associates with regularly, often weekly, for some purpose, but is not actually up to friend.

Associate is of similar scope to buddy, but is work related in most connotations; in a non-work situation, it implies that they are an acquaintance with whom one has some shared activity.

Best friends isn't limited to 1 per person; its those friends with whom one shares emotional intimacy.

On the sexual score...

  • one night stand - a one-off sexual liaison, often with a stranger.
  • Fucktoy - crass term for for an associate with whom the relationship is exclusively sexual
  • Bedbuddy - an associate with whom the relationship is almost exclusively sexual; little emotional intimacy. Often friends or buddies before the sex.
  • friend with benefits - a friend, or even close friend, with whom a non-romantic sexual relationship exists.
  • boyfriend/girlfriend - usually sexually and romantically exclusive relationship with building emotional intimacy. May also be non-sexual.
  • parter - long term sexual &/or romantic exclusivity.
  • spouse, husband, wife - legally, religiously, or socially long term pairbonded. Usually emotionally intimate, usually sexually intimate.
  • mistress - sexual relationship or deeply intimate emotional relationship contrasted against an existing partner or spouse.
  • other man - male equivalent to mistress, but having more negative connotations
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  1. Acquaintance
  2. Friend/Good friend depending on the depth
  3. Best friend
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The ambiguity in English is nice, you can go out with a friend without having to specify their gender - something French speaking friends have said would be quite useful.

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