What is the difference between shrimp and prawn?

Does it refer to different species of creature, to usage (for example, one as the animal itself versus the other as the meat of that same animal), to language level or region or register, or to something else altogether?

  • [ define shrimp ], [ define prawn ]
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:11
  • 3
    Please include the results of your own research efforts when posting a question. It is a considerable aid to the experts who are trying to understand what you need help with and saves them time.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:15
  • 2
    Not to mention langostinos, crayfish, or the whole scampi affair.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:55
  • AdrieanKhisbe, the difference seems to be in use. British people say prawn and Americans say shrimp. See my comment under Aaron's answer, for more information and a link.
    – Tristan
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 10:19

2 Answers 2


As an English person, we use the terms to describe the size. Shrimp being small and Prawn being large.

However according to experts the terms can be interchangeable for example:

"The terms shrimp and prawn have no definite reference to any known taxonomic groups. Although the term shrimp is sometimes applied to smaller species, while prawn is more often used for larger forms, there is no clear distinction between both terms and their usage is often confused or even reverse in different countries or regions."

Source: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/009/w7192e/w7192e13.pdf

According to the linguist Anatoly Liberman:

"No Germanic language associates the shrimp with its size"

Source: http://blog.oup.com/2012/05/word-origin-prawn/

However the exact definition in most dictionaries seem to be a large shrimp.


http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prawn http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/prawn

See wikipedia, I did :)

  • 4
    Used idiomatically, the word "shrimp" is often used to refer to other things (usually people) who are small in stature, generally as an insult. Whereas "prawn" pretty much always means the animal. Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 3:27
  • I have not heard the word "shrimp" used in the UK. The only times that I have heard it used have been by Americans, on American television cooking programmes. This is supported by the following link dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/prawn?q=prawn , that states (US usually shrimp).
    – Tristan
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 10:16

In my region (American Northeast), "shrimp" is the only commonly-used term for those crustaceans. I had actually never heard the word "prawn" until I was an adult. Wikipedia asserts that there is no scientific distinction associated with the names.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.