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In English, the phrase "features and characteristics" is often used. However, I, as a non-native English speaker, can't understand the difference between them.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English says:

feature: a part of something that you notice because it seems important, interesting, or typical

characteristic: a quality or feature of something or someone that is typical of them and easy to recognize

As the definition of "characteristic" shows, the word "characteristic" entails "feature".

In spite of this fact, you don't use either of them, but you often use the two words at the same time. Why?

Also, when you say "human features and characteristics", does "features" mean "someone's face" and "characteristics" mean "character"?

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There can be overlap in meaning, but I imagine in most contexts where "features and characteristics" are mentioned together, the implication is that features are visible characteristics, and the unqualified characteristics are actually behavioural characteristics. –  FumbleFingers Jun 11 '12 at 14:28

3 Answers 3

The meanings of the two terms largely overlap. Frankly, when they are used together, I think it's pretty much a redundancy for emphasis. If you asked a salesman, "What are the most important features of your product?" versus "What are the most important features and characteristics of your product?", I would expect you would get the same answer either way.

We do this a lot in English. Sometimes a single word just seems too abrupt. So instead of saying, "When the letter arrived, Sally was happy", we might say "When the letter arrived, Sally was happy and joyful." Instead of just saying, "Bob is irresponsible", we'll say, "Bob is lazy and irreponsible." Etc. Sometimes the extra words arguably do add some shade of meaning, but often people add extra words that mean pretty much the same thing just for emphasis: instead of saying "she was very very happy", it sounds more literate to say "she was happy and joyful".

You wouldn't normally talk about the "features and characteristics" of a person. This is a phrase used to describe inanimate objects, usually some machine or gadget. If you asked, "What are Mary's features and characteristics?" it would sound quite strange, like you were describing here as a product that you were going to sell.

When talking about a person, "features" means his physical appearance. If someone asked, "What did you notice about Charly's features?" they would expect an answer like, "He has brown hair and a scar on his left wrist." Similarly if you ask about the "features" of a place, like, "What are the features of the Toutle River Valley?", they would expect you to describe physical (geographic) features, like "There's a hill on the north end, a deep gorge running most of the length," etc. But if you talk about the "features" of a product, you normally mean details about how it functions. If someone asked, "What are the main features of your new Whizbang 300 cell phone?", they wouldn't expect you to answer, "It's black and sort of rectangular", but more like, "It has a built-in GPS and a function to mask out background sounds when you call your wife from the bar."

If you talked about the "characteristics" of a person, that could mean anything about him, from "He has blue eyes" to "He is an excellent basketball player." I suppose you wouldn't use "characteristics" to describe something very temporary, like "He is sitting at his desk"; it would normally be used only to describe a fairly long-term attribute.

(Whew, that answer was longer than I intended.)

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Thank you very much. I read it through (^o^). I understand. The two words are used to emphasize the word in question. –  foolnloof Jun 11 '12 at 15:29

The problem is that you're assuming language is a computer-like system. You don't need to know why the phrase evolved to what it is, you just need to know what it means and how it's used.

For example, "feelings" and "emotions" have similar definitions. Yet, you'd never say, "You hurt my emotions!" You'd always say, "You hurt my feelings!"

So that's the error in how you've been taught to think about language. Language has habits. The difference between a native and non-native speaker isn't grammar or even depth of vocabulary. It's that a native speaker knows when to use "feelings" and when to use "emotions" in every context. It's arbitrary. There isn't a "rule." And if there is, no native speaker learned the language by learning those rules. So why are you asking us to make up a rule to justify the phrase to your mind, which protests?

Your logical brain rejects the illogic of how arbitrary the foreign language is. A practical way around this is to involve your creative/non-linear brain. Suggestions, for when you encounter something in the language that "doesn't make sense":

  • Decide to accept it
  • Physically move while you think about it. Talk a walk, for example. Move in a way that emulates the phrase. This will cause your body to accept the phrase and lower the level of protest from your rational brain.
  • Find a way to draw a picture that illustrates the phrase. Same principle--it engages the creative, non-linear brain.

There's thousands of such arbitrary, there-is-no-rule phrases in a language. To learn them, you need to train your brain not to look for rules, but to gain an intuitive sense of what just "sounds right." That takes thousands of hours of listening to the language (as opposed to speaking or writing it).

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Features usually refer to the physical parts of the body. Such as large nose, blond hair, big feet, dark skin. Characteristics, taken from the word 'character', as in, the traits and characteristics of a person's personality; IE: funny, happy, sad, bored, smart, intelligent, talkative, patient, anxious, responsible.

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