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Consider a car.

I was thinking that we say "this car is variant of model-x" at times.

Then we also say "this car is a different version of model-x."

How do I tell why "version" or "variant" were used where they were?

Instinctively, I think "variant" at most should mean a color change, different leather or added alloys whereas "version" should mean like a higher capacity engine, carbon fibre roof or facelift.

So too much variation may be called a different version. Help me out.

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    What did you find when you looked up variant and version? Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 22:30
  • Well, Oxford says that a variant is a version of something with different features. Then it says version is the same type of thing different in certain respects. It doesn't clear up anything.
    – vickyace
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 22:44

2 Answers 2

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I think you're on the right track here: version implies a bigger difference than variant.

The first Oxford definition of each are similar, but they have some key differences:

Oxford definition of version:

A particular form of something differing in certain respects from an earlier form or other forms of the same type of thing:

Oxford definition of variation:

A form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard:

Looking at version, Y is a version of X if it differs from

  1. an earlier form
  2. or another form of the same type of thing

On the other hand, Z is a variant on X if it differs from:

  1. other forms of the same thing
  2. or a standard

The "earlier form" is the most straightforward difference: variant does not mention "an earlier form".

The second distinction is between another form of the same type of thing vs. the same thing or a standard.

There are some gray areas here as to what the "same thing" is vs. the "same type of thing". If car A and car B are distinct only in their color, you would probably say they are the same car that differs in some respect. However, if car A has a v6 engine and a hatchback, where as car B has a v4 engine and a small trunk but are otherwise the same, you might say car A and car B are the same type of car (the hatchback and sedan versions).

An example of differing from a standard is if there is a specific strain of a very common virus: you would say it was a variant.

Some common usages of each:

Version (examples summarized from the Oxford definition):

  1. The abridged version of my favorite book
  2. The latest version of antivirus software
  3. My version of the story

Version is very commonly used to described "An adaptation of a novel, piece of music, etc., into another medium or style" (Oxford definition), in describing software, or describing two critically different viewpoints on the same topic.

Variant (summarized from the Oxford definition and Merriam-Webster) :

  1. Gray is a spelling variant of grey.
  2. A more deadly variant of the disease.

Variant is used to more to describe slight changes, such as a different letter in spelling. It also has the very specific use of strains of diseases.

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    I think you meant "grey" is a spelling variant of "gray" or vice versa. (As it is now it's gray/gray.)
    – Joe Z.
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 5:07
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The difference between VERSION and VARIANT is that a new version is an improvement to an existing product whereas a variation is when the product is altered in some way for a different target audience or usage.

Example:

Google Android v1.0, 1.1, 2.0, etc. Each new version is an improvement to the previous version, and there's no reason not to upgrade to the newest version.

Now imagine that you have Google Android for cell phones, Google Android for tablets, or Google Android for cars. You can have different variants of the operating system for different applications. They're similar but not the same and users of one would not switch to the other.

Another Example:

A Hummer H1 is an SUV for civilian use. When the new model year comes out, it's a new version of the same Hummer H1.

However, that same Hummer H1 can be adapted for military use (armor, guns installed, etc.). That Hummer H1 is a variant of the civilian version. It's not an "improvement" on the civilian version... it's designed for a completely different purpose.

Therefore, when you think "version"... think improvement. When you think "variant", think distant relative.

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