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Is there any difference here at all?

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It sometimes depends on where you are. For instance, there is no such thing as woods in the tropics—one is either in the bush or in the forest! –  Jimi Oke Mar 29 '11 at 22:43

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To add more nuance (and confirm what's already been said) to the difference, I find (in AmE):

  • you can say 'a forest' (in general), or 'the forest' (a particular one), and 'the woods' (the one that you're walking through), but it would seem strange to refer to an collection of trees as 'a woods' (because of number agreement) or 'a wood' (because that would refer to a particular piece of lumber.
  • 'forests' are bigger than 'woods'. But a small collection of trees is not necessarily 'the woods'. Something smaller (without specifying actual size) would be called 'a stand of trees'. (i.e. if you can go into the collection and not see the end of the trees, then you're not in a stand of trees)
  • 'forest' has a slightly more official, formal feel to it than 'woods'.
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Thank you. It's quite clear now. –  brilliant Mar 27 '11 at 15:33
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A small group of trees can also be called a copse, but I haven't heard this term used outside of a reference to the famous "copse of trees" from the Battle of Gettysburg. –  HaL May 21 '11 at 16:45
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One can find uses of "wood" to mean a collection of trees; e.g. Pooh's "Hundred Acre Wood". Also, this misses the fact that woods are more often temperate and deciduous. –  Mark Beadles Dec 8 '12 at 3:32

It normally comes down to scale. I wouldn't consider the half-acre of trees behind my house a forest, but I frequently describe it as "the woods out back".

On the flip side, while I would typically describe, let's say a national park as a forest, I might also say that someone lost there is "lost in the woods"

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Note that in the US the government owns National Forests and State Forests, but not National Woods or State Woods. –  Jeanne Pindar Jan 5 '11 at 21:09
    
You also have to consider the climate and type of vegetation/wildlife. A jungle may be a large collection of trees, but I don't think you would call it a forest. –  Tester101 Mar 29 '11 at 20:23

These are almost completely synonymous, but I'd say a forest is a more defined (and probably larger) set of trees than woods. As in, if it has a name, it's almost certainly a forest. If it's just a clump of trees that may or may not end after ten feet, it's woods; if, however, you know that it stretches for five miles in each direction, then it's a forest.

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Note also that in the UK 'woods' is plural, and has a singular 'wood'. "I went for a walk in the wood/woods up there". I believe that in the US (at least for some speakers) "woods" is singular: I have heard "a woods". –  Colin Fine Nov 30 '10 at 17:27
    
FWIW, I'm not a speaker for whom "woods" can be singular. However, I also wouldn't use singular "wood" to mean anything other than the material of which trees (and furniture) are made. –  Marthaª Nov 30 '10 at 17:29
    
I think Tolkien preferred wood to woods. All I could recall for now is Mirkwood. –  Kit Dec 1 '10 at 12:31
    
Forest is also more formal, in a less formal conversation you might call a forest "woods". –  Tester101 Mar 29 '11 at 20:26

Originally, 'forest' meant a royal hunting ground, which is why they are usually larger than 'woods'; woods can be just a few trees, whereas a forest is usually much larger and denser, both in trees and vegetation. Also in some places such as the UK, woods can be plural because each 'wood' may be in some way separated or distinct.

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Forestry is coniferous trees planted as a crop to be harvested. It doesn't matter how small or large the stand of trees is, it's still forestry. I suspect that has influenced my usage, so that to me, a forest may be coniferous or deciduous, but my initial image would be coniferous. By contrast, a woodland is always deciduous, established, broadleaf trees, widely spaced but with little undergrowth, easy to walk through.

I wouldn't usually say a wood. I do go for a walk in the woods. These too are always deciduous in my usage, but I wouldn't be confused by another person using these words for coniferous trees. Perhaps all this is influenced by the fact that there are very few natural stands of conifers in Ireland. When I was in Colorado, the pine forests hugging the hills felt quite dark and oppressive, and the lack of any broadleaf other than scrub oak began to get to me.

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Interesting. Thank you. –  brilliant Dec 8 '12 at 3:37

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