Do these words have a different meaning?

Should we say artificial sugar or sweetener? Should we say artificial fur or faux fur?

Is there a rule that defines the border for artificial/faux/fake?

  • 1
    Those words are not synonyms. They are not interchangeable at all times. Please see definitions within each relevant domain. Faux fur; artificial (synthetic) sweetener; fake Picasso.
    – Kris
    Jan 22, 2014 at 6:18
  • 3
    @Kris: Synonyms are words that are interchangeable on occasion (otherwise there wouldn't be any). Jan 22, 2014 at 7:41
  • @EdwinAshworth Who said no? Why else would I waste efforts in writing two distinct sentences? And while at it, may I ask the comment's up voter, what really they understand about these two comments? :)
    – Kris
    Jan 22, 2014 at 15:00
  • @Kris: It looks like your two sentences are appositive. An 'And certainly' would disambiguate. Jan 22, 2014 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


AHD treats them as synonyms:

faux (foʊ)

adj. artificial or imitation; fake: faux pearls.

However, they are very rarely interchangeable, as Kris points out.

Faux has the connotation of 'accurate (more or less) representation / imitation with no moral intention to deceive'; it is a rather 'fancy' term (probably due to the obvious French derivation) useful to advertisers:

When manufacturing faux objects or materials, an attempt is often made to create products which will resemble the imitated items as closely as possible. However, some products are intentionally made to look "faux", for example, faux furs made for prospective buyers who want their fur to be recognizable as imitation due to controversy over the use and manufacture of real animal furs. [Wikipedia]

Artificial is the 'unmarked' term (artificial limb; artificial intelligence; artificial sweetner; artificial light) but can connote a lacking of a desirable quality ((of a person or a person's behavior) insincere or affected [Google]).

Fake has shady / tacky connotations (a fake Rembrandt; a fake gun).

  • Though note, the oddity in the definitions of natural flavor and artificial flavor where the latter refers to flavors that have not been discovered in nature whereas the former includes synthetic instances so long as they match the chemical in the natural flavor.
    – virmaior
    Jan 22, 2014 at 8:35
  • +1 and another thing to note is that artificial can be modified using very, somewhat, really, rather, quite, etc., while faux cannot. Fake is somewhere in-between. I think that goes to further show the unmarkedness of artificial vs. the other two.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 22, 2014 at 12:36
  • Surprised that no one mentioned that artificial is the antonym of natural. That's the the natural meaning of artificial, all other senses are contrived.
    – Kris
    Jan 22, 2014 at 15:03
  • 1
    It should perhaps be noted that, as a matter or pragmatics, faux is rarely used outside the contexts that have to do with fashion and design, even if using it would fit the definition.
    – jsw29
    Jun 21 at 21:49

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