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Following on from a recent question, in Australia we have the word jumper for a knitted long-sleeved garment, typically woollen and long-sleeved.

When cosuming foreign media I always assumed the terms pullover and sweater were the names of the same garment in either Britain or America but was never clear. How much semantic overlap is there? Are any two or more terms used in the same region and if so how are they used differently? Or are is it purely down to regionalism?

I'm also interested in other words that I may have overlooked which are synonyms of any of these three in some areas or some varieties of English. In fact some posters have mentioned jersey, which I have heard many times but I'm not sure if it refers to the same garment or something a bit different.

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This reminds me of the children's joke. What do get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo? A woolly jumper. –  Henry May 28 '11 at 16:03
    
I call all these things a "woolly", even if they aren't made of wool but appear to be. I wonder if there is a further regional differentiation for woolly? –  Brian Hooper May 28 '11 at 18:16
    
    
@Erik: I link to that one from the third word of my question (-: –  hippietrail May 29 '11 at 0:33
    
Oops, sorry about that. Delete? –  ErikE May 29 '11 at 2:13
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8 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is a lot of regional variation on the meanings of these words. I am only familiar with US English and UK English, others can fill in the blanks:

Jumper: In the UK this just refers to an garment you wear over your shirt for warmth. It doesn't have buttons, and it pulled over your head.

In the US this has a completely different meaning. It is a type of girl's dress, a top, with attached shorts basically. (Google will be happy to show you images.) It has a kind of "little girl" sense to it kind of like pinafore, however, for sure adult women wear them too.

Sweater: In the UK this is the same as a jumper, a garment you wear over your shirt, with no buttons, and is pulled over your head.

In the US this is a similar item, however, a cardigan with buttons can also be called a sweater in the US.

Pullover: again is a garment you wear over your shirt, pulled over your head. The meaning is the same in the US and UK, but it is a pretty uncommon word in the US.

So in the UK it all means pretty much the same, however there are considerable semantic variations in the US.

This is just based on my personal observation having lived in both countries. I am sure there are lots of subtle regional variations. For example, in the UK the further north you go, the more likely you are to use jumper instead of sweater, and vice versa. Though pullover is pretty universal.

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Google gives a good definition for the american usage: A collarless sleeveless dress, typically worn over a blouse. I think that describes it a bit better. –  Arlen Beiler May 28 '11 at 20:17
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Jumper is as Arlen says in the US. A girl's top with attached shorts (or long pants) would be called a jump suit in the US. –  mgkrebbs May 29 '11 at 18:10
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In Chile, because of the influence of many immigrants from Britain, a sweater is 'una chompa' — isn't that neat?

American usage:
Pullover is absolutely part of the wardrobe here! But it needn't be wooly — it can be made of fleece (synthetic) or a lightweight cotton-jersey knit type thing with long sleeves. Has to pull over the head versus zipping or buttoning up the front.

Sweater — any knitted thing for the top of your body. Short sleeves, long sleeves, button front, pullover, hooded, etc. You specify the details. Sweater-vest, hooded sweater, turtleneck sweater, etc.

Jumper — this is actually a dress (no shorts attached—that is a jumpsuit as clarified above) with no sleeves or collar; it is worn over a blouse or lightweight 'pullover' as we see in Catholic school uniforms here.

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The word jumper is not used for that particular garment in American English, so there's one difference for you. As for pullover, I suppose that would be used to refer only to the subset of sweaters that one puts on by pulling them over one's head, which would exclude things like cardigans and some sweater vests.

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Interesting. In Australia a cardigan differs from a jumper in that it is buttoned up so not pulled over the head as is a jumper. –  hippietrail May 28 '11 at 15:53
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In the UK also I would say that you can't take sweater to mean cardigan -- if it buttons up, it isn't a sweater, a pullover or a jumper: it's a cardigan! –  AAT May 28 '11 at 21:54
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For the AmE perspective:

  • 'sweater' is what you call the knitted garment. You really don't call it anything else.
  • if someone calls it a 'pullover', we'd understand that you're probably referring to the sweater, but wonder why you'd say it that way.
  • if someone calls it a 'jumper', we'd wonder why you're talking about a young girls halter-top informal summer short dress/skirt thing.
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Thanks. I had no idea jumper was used in AmE in any garment sense! Is pullover used in a garment sense at all? –  hippietrail May 28 '11 at 15:53
    
'Pullover' is not used in AmE for anything. –  Mitch May 28 '11 at 16:00
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'Pullover' is indeed used in AmE. A sweater is either a cardigan or a pullover, depending on whether it zips or buttons down the front or not. If it doesn't, you have to pull it over your head (and thus pullover). Generally, though, people use the word sweater rather than pullover or cardigan. –  Peter Shor May 28 '11 at 17:24
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In the UK jumper, sweater and pullover are different names for exactly the same thing. A cardigan has buttons.

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As others have said, all three mean the same thing in British English. What nobody else has mentioned yet is that we might also call such a garment a jersey.

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Jerseys and guernseys were originally specific types of thick fisherman's sweaters, made to designs from the respective islands (I think 'cable-knit' comes into it, but wouldn't swear to it). I think guernsey still has this meaning, but jersey has become generic. –  TimLymington Dec 29 '11 at 14:35
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My daughter and I worked on a fantastic definition of "jumper" together, and it didn't make it to a post because I hadn't logged in first. Here's my take on my own:

A jumper is an item of clothing that essentially provides, all in one piece, a skirt and a bodice. It is sleeveless and, by definition, is meant to be worn over a blouse or turtleneck. The jumper can hang from the shoulders to the hemline OR it can have a waistband. One can pull the jumper over one's head or, in the case of my daughter's jumper, step into it - this depends largely on the neckline. The extra space (aka, wiggle room) to get the jumper on is usually provided by a zipper and/or buttons. They can go down the back or on the side. A jumper is closed all the way around - since I just read this evening that a pinafore (my guess for what the British would call our jumper) is not generally closed in the back (although it could have apron-string ties to keep it in place) - thank you, Wikipedia.

My daughter's jumper has a yoke-style top - that is it has a fairly open front; it has a waistband with both a zipper and button, on one side, for closure. The combination of the wide opening down the front and the zipper allows her to step into the garment through the top; the zipper closes up and the button secures the waistband. I have been known to slide the buttons over to keep up with her growth; another adjustment for height, besides raising/lowering the hem, is to tuck in or let out the yoke-style top (where it attaches to the skirt of the jumper).

A jumper is, in my opinion, worn more often by girls than by grown women. This bias may be generated by the fact that the uniform for many private schools in this area includes a jumper to be worn over a blouse/turtleneck with a sweater (next paragraph) as an additional layer of warmth as needed (cool weather outside, cool classroom temperature inside). At my daughter's school, their skirts of their jumpers are to be "mid-knee" length; during the course of the year, they grow and the skirts get relatively shorter. For the older girls (middle school and up), should they still be wearing jumpers, they seem to want their skirts as short as possible - and how "mini" their skirts end up being can be a source of contention (with the administration and/or with parents who notice or mind).

A pullover would be anything like a sweater or sweatshirt or fleece that goes over your head to go on. It wouldn't have buttons or a zipper except for decoration. I'd be more likely to say "sweatshirt" or "sweater" and assume the "pullover" part - for instance, a hoodie is a pullover sweatshirt/sweater/fleece that has a hood and I would call it a hoodie. I don't think that I would call any of my clothes a pullover, although I would know what someone means if they used the term.

As for sweater, I liked the definition from above: "Sweater -- any knitted thing for the top of your body. Short sleeves, long sleeves, button front, pullover, hooded, etc. You specify the details. Sweater-vest, Hooded sweater, turtleneck sweater, etc." I would add that the modifications for sweater could include a long-sleeved sweater, a short-sleeved sweater, or a button-down sweater; we wouldn't say "sleeveless sweater", because that would be a vest.

I would also add that a sweater is generally worn for extra warmth and generally it is worn over a shirt or turtleneck - although some of the very best sweaters, especially those made from the finest materials (angora/silk/cashmere) a sweater as a top all by itself. The extra warmth still holds (those fine materials generally trap a lot of heat). The only exception would be some more decorative sweater made of a light-weight yarn and and open knit for warm-weather wear (as I said, an exception).

Hope this helps.

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Ireland is the same as BrE but we also have a gansey. Ganseys originated in Guernesy, jerseys in Jersey. A gansey-load of something is quite a lot, the amount you could carry in your gansey.

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protected by Jasper Loy Jun 17 '12 at 10:50

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