What is the difference between sorcerer and wizard?

I know that the nomenclature is unclear. However, the common usage seems to indicate:

  1. a wizard is born an ordinary mortal, learns magic and spells from books;
  2. a sorcerer is born a sorcerer, but needs to learn spells (possibly of a certain type) from a master.

Is this correct, or is there more to it?

  • 9
    A sorcerer is a wizard squared. The eighth son of a wizard, who is himself, the eighth son of an eighth son. It is why wizards are not allowed to have children, too dangerous.
    – Orbling
    Feb 26, 2011 at 22:27
  • @orbling wow! That sounds credible, source?
    – CMR
    Feb 26, 2011 at 22:43
  • 3
    The reason I post it as comment and not an answer, is that it is a made up reasoning by a very famous author. Source is on the link upon sorcerer.
    – Orbling
    Feb 26, 2011 at 22:50
  • 1
    I agree with some comments below: it is up to the author of the book (or the game) what the words mean in that milieu. Maybe the Harry Potter books are so pervasive that they will fix the meanings from now on. But I doubt it.
    – GEdgar
    Nov 23, 2011 at 14:25
  • 2
    @tchrist My god, you're right! I'd completely forgotten about those silly 1st Edition level titles, which attempt to assume a (usually) completely irrelevant link between character level and a specific social hierarchy. :) May 30, 2012 at 5:18

3 Answers 3


I'm afraid that there is no definite answer, since both roles are pure fiction and their attributes may change as in role playing games they have a difference (different spells and skills). Only the etymology could give a clue

From etymonline

sorcerer 1520s, earlier sorcer, from O.Fr. sorcier (see sorcery). Sorcerer’s apprentice was a symphonic poem by Paul Dukas (1897) based on a Goethe ballad ("Der Zauberlehrling," 1797), but the common figurative use of the term (1952) comes after Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940).

wizard mid-15c., "philosopher, sage," from M.E. wys "wise" (see wise (adj.)) + -ard. Cf. Lith. zynyste "magic," zynys "sorcerer," zyne "witch," all from zinoti "to know." The ground sense is perhaps "to know the future." The meaning "one with magical power" did not emerge distinctly until c.1550, the distinction between philosophy and magic being blurred in the Middle Ages. As a slang word meaning "excellent" it is recorded from 1922.


The terms do not have precise enough meanings in the general usage to articulate any clear delineations between them. "Wizard" has greater implications of age, wisdom, and having a long flowing gray beard and pointy hat, while a "sorceror" (I prefer the -or to the -er) is more likely to be ill-intentioned and wear a metal skullcap.

The specific meanings you're talking about seem closely related to the Dungeons & Dragons usage of the terms; clarification of that is a question for rpg.stackexchange.com.

  • 1
    Why should it be RPG? I haven't played any RPGs with wizards or sorcerers, nor have I read Happy Potty, but still have come across these words great many times.
    – CMR
    Feb 26, 2011 at 20:39
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    @CMR: It should go on RPG if, and only if, the D&D usage is actually what you want to know about. You might want to look into it in any event, because it's the only source I know about where wizard and sorceror have specific technical meanings that match what you seem to have gathered. The words are used all the time, certainly, but there is no generally-agreed-upon version of what they specifically mean, outside of particular contexts like D&D.
    – chaos
    Feb 26, 2011 at 20:40
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    @CMR: I haven't seen The Sorcerer's Apprentice, so can't comment on it. Gandalf is archetypal of "wizard", but that's somewhat misleading, as the reason he had magical powers wasn't study, it was that he was a minor divine being, like an angel.
    – chaos
    Feb 26, 2011 at 20:45
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    @CMR: I'd also say that whatever The Sorcerer's Apprentice has going on, you shouldn't take its content to reflect a cultural consensus as to what being a "sorcerer" means. Neither term is really any more than a mostly-interchangeable synonym for "magician" in the general usage.
    – chaos
    Feb 26, 2011 at 20:52
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    @Peter Taylor: I think you sell Tolkien short; Quenya is strongly influenced by Latin and Dwarvish (such as it is) by the Semetic languages. So even though the bulk of the book is West Germanic there are many other influences.
    – Charles
    Jul 5, 2011 at 15:27

These words have been used to describe a variety of characters in works of fiction. There are common ideas which generally present themselves to one type or the other, but realize that nobody really existed who was either of these. So there is no right answer here. There are some things which seem to be common, however.

Wizards are wise and intelligent, and magically seem to be able to do whatever they wish with a gesture. They solve problems by cunning, creativity, or generally thinking outside the box. If you angered a wizard, he would be more likely to get back at you through a practical joke than to kill you. Dictionary: a wise man (sage), one skilled in magic (sorceror)

Sorcerors derive their magic from a control of the world around them or nature's spirits. There is also often an implication of evil. Their power frequently manifests itself in command of fire, control of wind and rain, or the ability to animate elemental forces. If you angered a sorceror, you probably wouldn't last long. Dictionary: a person who practices sorcery (wizard), a person who possesses supernatural powers aided by evil spirits

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