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I'm a bit confused as to why some thesauruses, e.g. Oxford Dictionaries, state that puppy is a synonym of dog. To me they are related but not a synonym.


  1. hound, canine, mongrel, cur, tyke;
    male dog;
    bitch, pup, puppy, whelp
    informal: doggy, pooch, mutt
    Australian informal: mong, bitzer

Can anyone shed some light on the matter please?

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Are you sure you know what a thesaurus offers? It is not usually exact synonyms. – TimLymington Jan 11 at 12:33
A puppy is also a dog, just a smaller and younger version. I imagine puppy is also synonymous with off-spring But that doesn't mean I call a baby bear a puppy. – Mari-Lou A Jan 11 at 12:40
My 6th grade teacher pounded into my head the fact that a synonym is a word that means ALMOST the same as the word it's supposedly a synonym of. – Hot Licks Jan 11 at 13:23
To be exact, "puppy" is a hyponym and "dog" is the corresponding hypernym. Canine in turn is the hypernym of dog (wolves are also canines). Note that not all dogs are puppies, but neither are all dogs bitches. IOW, the list given is anything but an exact list of synonyms. – MSalters Jan 11 at 15:06
How come your question doesn't also ask about "bitch" and "whelp" that are listed right next to "puppy" and are (in my experience) rarely, if ever, used to refer to just any dog (e.g., I never hear "bitch" used for a male dog)? On the other hand, I hear people calling their fully grown dog their "puppy" all the time. – Todd Wilcox Jan 11 at 16:51
up vote 39 down vote accepted

Synonyms aren't only words that mean the exact same thing. They may be words that mean approximately the same thing. Moreover, many do call their adult dogs their "puppy," just like many call other adults their "baby." Just as "baby" can refer to an adult person, so also can "puppy" refer to an adult dog.

Also, you should note that the entry doesn't cite those words as "synonyms." Rather, it says they come from a thesaurus. A thesaurus provides words of similar meaning whose closeness in exact meaning tend to decrease as one moves down a list. If thesauruses only provided words that meant EXACTLY the same thing, they wouldn't be very helpful as we often use them to try to home in on a better word, one that more exactly says what we mean to say.

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Almost certainly that should be home in on; see this question. – TimLymington Jan 11 at 17:12
@TimLymington : Thanks. I corrected the typo. I also went ahead and corrected a poor construction I had made: just as, so also. – Benjamin Harman Jan 11 at 17:40
@TimLymington -- About "homing in," the question in question dates back to 2011. We are nearly 5 years into the future and I'm being persuaded to believe that "hone in" is now the more widely accepted linguistic (speaking for American English here...) – Jimmy Huch Jan 11 at 23:13
My thesaurus lists the words alphabetically, not in decreasing order of closeness. – CJ Dennis Jan 12 at 8:03
@CJ Dennis : I obviously can't speak for all thesauruses, which is why the word "tend." Thesaurus.com, Collins Dictionary, OED, and many, many others do not alphabetize entries under a given definition of a word but sort them by the strength of their similarity to that definition. – Benjamin Harman Jan 12 at 13:20

Because it's useful to list them as such.

Puppy is a hyponym of dog (a different hyponym in early-modern and contemporary use), not a perfect synonym, but then you already know a perfect word to use when dog matches precisely; dog.

A thesaurus is useful precisely because it will be a bit "fuzzy" in the synonyms it lists, and so has a chance of providing a better word for your purposes than the one you looked up. Hyponyms and hypernyms are both candidates for this.

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If you are asking why the term puppy is used to refer to a small, young dog, the answer is in its etymology, probably from French "puppet" (toy):

  • late 15c., "woman's small pet dog," of uncertain origin but likely from Middle French poupée "doll, toy" (see puppet) . Meaning shifted from "toy dog" to "young dog" (1590s), replacing Middle English whelp. In early use in English puppet and puppy were not always distinct from each other. Also used about that time in sense of "vain young man." Puppy-dog first attested 1590s (in Shakespeare, puppi-dogges). (Etymonline)

enter image description here A puppy.

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If you quote explanations of etymology you should always indicate the source. – rogermue Jan 11 at 13:16
Lol at the picture inclusion. Who doesn't want to see a picture of a puppy. – stacey Jan 11 at 14:59
See also, puppy love. – Tim Ward Jan 11 at 17:04
"If you are asking why the term puppy is used to refer to a small, young dog". The asker isn't. They're asking whether "puppy" and "dog" are synonyms. – David Richerby Jan 12 at 3:45
@DavidRicherby Originally the OP did ask "why, but the title was edited, and it changed to a simple "yes" or "no" question BUT there's also this afterthought: Can anyone shed some light on the matter please? Now, how would you interpret that request? – Mari-Lou A Jan 12 at 11:56

Every puppy is a dog. Some dogs (but not all) are puppies.

The same way every woman is a human. Some (but not all) humans are women.

So puppy might be a synonym to a dog (not in all cases, though).

I got a new dog today. It's so cute!

If and only if said dog is young, one might rephrase:

I got a new puppy today. It's so cute!

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@Mari-LouA And to defend my dignity a bit more I want to point out that I used woman because I wished to add to the variety of gender references. And a generic picture of a human tends to be a man. The intention was good. The delivery clumsy. I appreciate the civil tone of the remark. – Konrad Viltersten Jan 12 at 12:20

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