I'm particularly interested in the meaning of apt, but while I was searching through some dictionaries and examples it struck me how close the words apt and fit seem to be. Thus: what exactly is the difference between apt and fit?


As I understand from etymonline.com the word apt came from - next part copied from etymonline - from Latin aptus where it meant "fit, suited" which is related to apere "to attach, join, tie to". The Proto Indo European root is ap- and means to grasp, take, reach

Fit on the other hand seems to be somewhat more difficult to trace back. Etymonline states that mid 15th century it meant "suited to the circumstances, proper," though of unknown origin, perhaps from Middle English noun fit "an adversary of equal power" (mid-13c.) which in turn might be connected to Old English fitt "a conflict, a struggle"

Additional Thoughts/Questions

Reading the etymologies above, would it be fair to say that the difference between an apt student and a fit student would be that:

  • an apt student is a student that has the right conduct/behaviour in regard to studying?
  • a fit student is the student that is (especially physically) well equiped to engage in a struggle, e.g. study?

Anyway, the above is just an example to get the discussion started, but if you have broader views on the difference of apt and fit please share them as well. Thanks in advance!

  • I would say a fit student is a student who is in good physical shape (or, if you’re a British yoof, a good-looking one). I would not use ‘fit’ attributively in that way. Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 16:26
  • 1
    Yes, fit is not much used without a for or to phrase, except in the specific senses that Janus suggests.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 17:02

2 Answers 2


"Apt" and "fit" are generally not interchangeable, as one or the other tends to be preferred in a given context. I think the degree of specificity is what distinguishes them. "Fit" tends to means "well-suited to a particular purpose", while "apt" means "well-chosen" or "appropriate" in a more holistic sense. Here are some examples:

  • "This was an apt observation, given the events that followed." The observation was especially well chosen in context, not for any particular purpose, so "fit" doesn't really work here. However, "fitting" could be used.

  • "The survey was designed to determine which candidate was most fit for the job." Since a specific purpose is cited, "fit" works better than "apt" here.

  • "Joe proved an apt pupil, quickly surpassing his peers." Here, "apt" is used to mean "skillful" in a general sense, without any particular purpose.

  • "Only the most physically and mentally fit students can become underwater basket weavers." Here the two words are pretty interchangeable, although perhaps "adept" would be better than "apt".


Fit is a common enough term adjective used to note a degree of athleticism. Apt is more commonly used when the skill under consideration is not particularly athletic.enter image description here

  • Still when looking at a phrase like survival of the fittest, this surely does not just refer to athleticism, does it? I would say it refers rather to species/individuals with the best tools (in relation to the environment) at disposal, in this case the body... Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 22:23
  • @Flabbergasted "Survival of the fittest" is a semi-technical term referring to "[evolutionary] fitness", the ability of an organism to live and reproduce in its environment. The term is sometimes applied metaphorically to other situations, but this is its original meaning.
    – augurar
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 23:38

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