What is the difference between relation and relationship?

Some say that relationship often refers to social connections. For instance,

She has a close relationship with her daughter.

How about the following?

the relationship between poor housing and health problems (Longman Dictionary)

the special relationship between Britain and the US (Longman Dictionary)

  • From an Natural Language Processing standpoint, this is a great question. Relation(ship) extraction is part of the information extraction pipeline. Stanford calls it relation extraction whereas other places you could conceivably hear the term relationship extraction
    – demongolem
    Jan 11, 2018 at 13:50

4 Answers 4


While relation and relationship refer to the connection between things, relation shades more toward the way things are connected, while relationship refers to the connection itself. The difference is not spacious.


"The size of the targets bore no relation to their importance." [NOAD]

This is different from

"The two friends enjoyed a very close relationship."

  • 4
    Moreover, relation is more formal and has a technical meaning in mathematics.
    – Ganymede
    Mar 21, 2015 at 13:45
  • 2
    @CPerkins: Nope. It was a conscious nod to Mark Twain, from his essay on Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses: "In that matter of intellect, the difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigar-shop is not spacious. " Meaning not a lot.
    – Robusto
    Jul 11, 2018 at 3:33
  • 2
    How would "The two friends enjoyed a very close relation" differ from "The two friends enjoyed a very close relationship"? Sep 25, 2019 at 10:11
  • 2
    @Robusto Why? P.S.: At least some people do use it in that context: Google search for "enjoyed a close relation" returns many results. Sep 25, 2019 at 13:56
  • 2
    @NicolasSchmidt: Google searches are notorious for turning up erroneous and ungrammatical constructions.
    – Robusto
    Sep 25, 2019 at 14:03

To me, the main difference is that relationship is broader than relation:

  • both can mean “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected”;
  • in addition, relationship can mean “the state of being connected”.

So, in “She has a close relationship with her daughter”, because you're talking about the fact a particular existing connection, I wouldn't use “relation”.

In your second example, if “the relationship between poor housing and health problems” is merely an academic study of the possible correlation, then “relation” would fit well.

In the third, again, the “special relationship” is a particular, existing connection, so “relation” wouldn't fit the bill. In addition, “special relationship” is a well established phrase since post-World War II times.


There's other meanings as well...

"Fred has had [sexual] relations with Sally."

"I hate having to invite my poor relations to parties, because they always steal the silverware."

In the database sense, without being pedantic about the academically correct definitions of "Relation" and "Relationship", especially at the physical level when we are discussing tables (not tuples) but in keeping with the English meaning ...

  • A real (table) or derived (columns from more than one table) is a Relation

    • but most developers will cringe at, it is not commonly understood
    • therefore we commonly call them tables or derived tables
  • and therefore the Relationships can be simply Relations between tables

    • both defined (as Foreign Keys) and not (derived, as per other data values, such as related by date or time or some other value)
    • personally I would capitalise the formally defined Relations and leave the derived or projected relations uncapitalised.
  • Re „at the physical level when we are discussing tables (not tuples)“ – Why do you contrast tables with tuples? A table is the physical pendant of a model relation, a tuple is the model pendant of a physical record, aren't they? Oct 18, 2015 at 18:45

Relationship means "bond" while relation means "connection", used in formal and informal lexicon.

  • 2
    Since a bond is a connection, this is not really helpful. (Not to mention how this one-liner compares to the older answers.)
    – RegDwigнt
    Feb 28, 2013 at 10:18

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