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When I try to translate the German word "Krug" into English, LEO shows me without further distinction:

  • flagon
  • jar
  • jug
  • mug
  • tankard
  • pitcher

But as far as I know, they cannot always used interchangeably, right? What are the differences (maybe also regionally)?

2 Answers 2

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In American English,

  • flagon is very old-timey. If you call a container a "flagon", people will probably look at you funny. That said, a flagon is probably most similar to a jug (see below). I think that "flagon" is more common in British English than in AmE, but don't quote me on that.
  • A jar is a cylindrical container with a pop-off or screw-off lid, often made of glass. It is usually taller than it is wide. My impression of an archetypal jar looks pretty much like this: image. A jar can be used to store either solids or liquids, though solids are more common.
  • A jug is a more oblong container, usually thicker near the middle than at the top, and usually not radially symmetric. This word is frequently heard in the phrase milk jug, which looks like this: image. The kind of jug you would buy at a store (empty, for putting your own things in) would look more like this: image. A jug is designed to hold liquids, not solids, and as such, will always have handles for the user to hold while pouring from the jug.
  • Unlike the previous three things, a mug is not used to store things. Rather, a mug is basically a drinking cup with a handle. They are cylindrical and do not have lids. Common collocations with mug are coffee mug and beer mug. Coffee mugs are typically made of porcelain or another ceramic and typically look like this: image (though they can be any color). Beer mugs are usually taller than coffee mugs, and are made from glass or transparent plastic, and look like this: image. If you just say "mug" by itself, people are more likely to think you're talking about a coffee mug than a beer mug.
  • A tankard is sort of a fancy version of a beer mug - it is used for drinking, not for storage. Unlike beer mugs, they often come with lids, and can be made from nontransparent materials such as silver. Tankards are always used for drinking alcohol, not for other beverages.
  • A pitcher is basically a jug, though a pitcher is more likely to be closer to cylindrical. Pitchers are used for storage, not for drinking. The most common collocation with "pitcher" is probably water pitcher. A pitcher can have a lid, but most probably don't have a lid.

Regarding interchangeability of these words: you can interchange pitcher and jug in some contexts (but you probably shouldn't say milk pitcher or jug of beer). You can also interchange beer mug and beer tankard in some contexts (but you cannot say coffee tankard). Aside from that, these words are not interchangeable.

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  • Wow, I had no idea how big the differences are! The images are also very helpful! May 4, 2014 at 10:14
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Just to add some other information: regarding the use of their names respectively in American English or British English , as shown on NGram there is not much difference in the term most used, with jar as the most common term.

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