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I'd like to know if there's a difference in meaning and usage between the words "patrimony" and "heritage".

I've noticed there's some overlapping between the two, but it's not clear to me how they differ. If I understand things right, heritage is not necessarily related to wealth. There's cultural heritage, historical heritage, natural heritage. I suppose the word "patrimony" isn't fit for these contexts, right? But when we are talking about wealth and money being inherited by someone, is it correct to use both terms? Are they interchangeable or is there a difference?

Thank you!

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  • Welcome to EL&U, Zac. We would appreciate knowing what you have found (or what confused you) when you researched the answer a bit (for example, using any online dictionary, such as this one or this one. Dec 26, 2013 at 15:47

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Just as patrimony and heritage have the following point in common - both signify something that you get from your predecessors - the two have a difference due to the specificity of the word "patrimonial". Patrimonial strictly means something that you inherit from a male ancestor, more precisely your father, whereas heritage is something that you get or inherit from the past, no matter from whom.

The word heritage has a broader sense of application, for example:

We shall always be grateful to the valuable heritage of our country.

Here heritage may mean natural heritage, cultural heritage, etc.

But patrimony restricts it to (usually), materialistic objects, wealth, etc.

Hope this helps

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  • Welcome to EL&U, Shefali. We appreciate your input. We also appreciate links to sources (where applicable) in answers. Dec 26, 2013 at 15:40
  • @Shefali: Thank you very much for your help! I hadn't really thought about the relation between "patrimony" and the latin word "pater". That's quite interesting! But, please forgive my insistence: when talking specifically about money and wealth, without any reference to ancestors' gender, then is "heritage" just as acceptable? From what you have said, I suppose so.
    – Zac
    Dec 26, 2013 at 18:24
  • @Zac: yes, heritage would be acceptable, but I think if you talking about money and wealth specifically, then "legacy" would be a better word.
    – Shefali
    Dec 27, 2013 at 1:51
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"Patrimony" and "heritage" overlap in that both of them can be used to refer to those features, things, traditions and the like that a country/society has had for many years and that are passed to from one generation to another.

So you may say "cultural/historical/natural heritage" or "cultural/historical/natural patrimony", for example - here, both words can be used interchangeably.

However, "patrimony" has an additional meaning in that it also refers to property that somebody inherits from their father/male ancestor. In this case, you cannot use "heritage". If the property is inherited from the mother or a female ancestor, then you cannot use "patrimony", either. You can say "inherited property" or "legacy", although you have to be careful with "legacy", as it may mean different things in different legal systems.

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  • This Google ngram shows that the qualified usages of patrimony cited are rare in English, probably French borrowings.
    – David
    Mar 6 at 13:07

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