What is the difference in between "race" and "breed"? Could I say "human breed" instead of "human race"?

  • Depends. What do you want to say? Humans breed other humans, all of whom, whatever their race, would be some breed of human, a strange breed of mammal. We need more context to be able to help.
    – terdon
    Jun 13 '15 at 20:35
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    Breed is restricted to domesticated animals (and plants, for those who understand plant breeding). Race is a term for various perceived and/or asserted socioeconomic groups (which may or may not be social groups, and may sometimes include physical identifying characteristics). Like caste, class, level, and many other terms, it's used to classify and sift human society. So the question is which metaphor you imply: humans are animals to be bred, or humans are all the same race (i.e, race = species). I like the second one better, personally. Jun 13 '15 at 20:47
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    @JohnLawler The question of whether a race is applied to a group of humans e.g. the Eskimo race, or whether it is applied to humans in general is interesting. In the days of apartheid South Africa all visitors to the country were given a landing card which asked you to describe your 'race'. Some people used to write human in the space provided.
    – WS2
    Jun 13 '15 at 21:04
  • At least as I have seen it used in older works, breed implies a variety that has arisen through deliberate selection (hence the verb to breed), while a race is a variety that occured naturally. However, contemporary sociopolitical constraints have seen the last usage replaced by 'variety'.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 13 '15 at 21:33

At the simplest level, it's race for people, and breed for animals.

From Oxford Dictionaries - race (emphasis mine): "Each of the major divisions of humankind". [It then goes on to give lots of specific meanings, just in case anyone thinks that's too simplistic a definition of a highly-charged word.]

And from the same dictionary - breed (emphasis mine again): "A stock of animals or plants within a species having a distinctive appearance and typically having been developed by deliberate selection."

However, the same entry then gives a second definition for breed: "A sort or kind of person or thing". So you could say, for example, that people who spend Saturday night posting to Internet forums are a special breed of people. That's a metaphorical usage - it doesn't imply that the people share common DNA.

And no, you'd never say human breed; the stock expression is human race.


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