I've heard people use them interchangeably.
Just so I don't go crazy, what is the difference?

3 Answers 3


Cane sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is the crop, cane sugar is the refined grains of sugar.

Edit: you also get other things from sugarcane, such as falernum, molasses, rum, cachaça, bagasse and ethanol.

There are photos of the crop are on Wikipedia.

  • ‘Sugarcane’ as one word seems like an Americanism to me; in the UK it's ‘sugar cane’, two words.
    – gidds
    Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 17:58

When you have two nouns together, usually the second is the basic meaning, and the first one acts like an adjective to modify it. An apple tree is a kind of tree. A tree house is a kind of house.

So sugar cane is a kind of cane. (It’s a cane from which sugar is produced.) Cane sugar is a kind of sugar. (It’s sugar that’s produced from cane.)

  • 1
    Any explanation for the downvote, by the way? I’m not offended by getting them, but it would be helpful to know why.
    – PLL
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 22:41
  • You're offended, obviously.
    – user8568
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 22:45
  • +1 The answer looks obvious because the question is simple. For a native speaker that is. Commented May 26, 2011 at 0:10
  • 3
    Downvoting an answer should always be accompanied by an explanatory comment, I feel. If we have to ask for an explanation, what does that really say about communication in this community? How else will the author of the downvoted answer hAve a chance to learn about what aspect of the answer was perceived as not suitable/wrong/not welcome.
    – teylyn
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 9:11
  • +1 for not just answering, but giving the general principle that explains why it's so. Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 19:15

Cane sugar is a type of sugar, sugar cane is a type of cane. The difference is which is the noun and which is the adjective.

Cane sugar is a type of sugar derived from a particular cane plant.

Sugar cane is a type of cane plant that can be used to make sugar.

For our next question we want to know, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

  • snap! Almost identical answers, almost identical timing :-)
    – PLL
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 22:17

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