What is the difference between "Man" and "Human" in the broad senses of mankind and humanity? I recognize that some object to the term "mankind" because of the gender connotations. I was wondering if, ignoring that objection, there was a difference and also what the Hu in "human" means. Could people still object to the sexism of language because there is a man in human?

The Online Etymology Dictionary:

human (adj.)

mid-15c., humain, humaigne, "human," from Old French humain, umain (adj.) "of or belonging to man" (12c.), from Latin humanus "of man, human," also "humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized." This is in part from PIE _(dh)ghomon_-, literally "earthling, earthly being," as opposed to the gods (see homunculus)*. Compare Hebrew adam "man," from adamah "ground." Cognate with Old Lithuanian zmuo (accusative zmuni) "man, male person."

human (n.)

"a human being," 1530s, from human (adj.). Its Old English equivalent, guma, survives only in disguise in bridegroom.

man (n.)

Old English man, mann "human being, person (male or female); brave man, hero; servant, vassal," from Proto-Germanic *manwaz (cognates: Old Saxon, Swedish, Dutch, Old High German man, German Mann, Old Norse maðr, Danish mand, Gothic manna "man"), from PIE root *man- (1) "man" (cognates: Sanskrit manuh, Avestan manu-, Old Church Slavonic mozi, Russian muzh "man, male").

Plural men (German Männer) shows effects of i-mutation. Sometimes connected to root *men- "to think" (see mind), which would make the ground sense of man "one who has intelligence," but not all linguists accept this. Liberman, for instance, writes, "Most probably man 'human being' is a secularized divine name" from Mannus [Tacitus, "Germania," chap. 2], "believed to be the progenitor of the human race."

     So I am as he that seythe, `Come hyddr John, my man.' [1473]

Sense of "adult male" is late (c. 1000); Old English used wer and wif to distinguish the sexes, but wer began to disappear late 13c. and was replaced by man. Universal sense of the word remains in mankind and manslaughter. Similarly, Latin had homo "human being" and vir "adult male human being," but they merged in Vulgar Latin, with homo extended to both senses. A like evolution took place in Slavic languages, and in some of them the word has narrowed to mean "husband." PIE had two stems: *uiHro "freeman" (source of Sanskrit vira-, Lithuanian vyras, Latin vir, Old Irish fer, Gothic wair) and *hner "man," a title more of honor than *uiHro (source of Sanskrit nar-, Armenian ayr, Welsh ner, Greek aner).

   MANTRAP, a woman's commodity. [Grose, "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," London, 1785]

Man also was in Old English as an indefinite pronoun, "one, people, they." The chess pieces so called from c. 1400. As an interjection of surprise or emphasis, first recorded c. 1400, but especially popular from early 20c. Man-about-town is from 1734; the Man "the boss" is from 1918. To be man or mouse "be brave or be timid" is from 1540s. Men's Liberation first attested 1970.

   At the kinges court, my brother, Ech man for himself. [Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," c. 1386]

From this there does not seem to be any relation between "man" and "human" because one is Germanic and one is Latin. It seems to me that the "man" in human is just a phonetic shift from homunculus. It could also be possible that both words are derived from the respective culture's origin of man. Is there a relationship I am missing or something related to look at?

  • no phonetic shift quite like that occured; as that entry says, "human" comes from Latin "humanus," not "homunculus" (the latter looks like a diminutive of "homo"). Etymonline does seem to suggest some earlier connection between these words, but is vague about the specifics.
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 3:40
  • 2
    By the way, your title and intro talk about the meaning of these words, but the end asks about the history. These are in fact distinct; it's important to avoid the etymological fallacy when discussing the current meaning of words in English.
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 3:49
  • 1
    Related: Politically correct substitutes for (fe)male and (wo)man
    – Crissov
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 15:41

3 Answers 3


One of our teachers used to say, All men are human but all humans are not men

In general sense Man refers to the masculine gender specifically and Human would refer to both men and women.

And, regarding why HuMAN has man in it, i don't think it is sexist. Because the word Man was initially a gender neutral term, like the present day word, person, but later got changed.

Source : Man was originally gender neutral

  • 1
    The first "human" is an adjective, the second is a noun and should be plural.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 5:07
  • @Mari-LouA , Yeah, sorry. Edited it Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 5:09
  • I'm not even sure you quoted your teacher correctly. I would have said: *All men are human, but not all humans are men"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 5:13
  • @Mari-LouA, I know. But she used to say that, humorously i suppose. But, you get the idea. Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 5:15
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    Whatever drift has taken place in the meaning of 'man', we'd continue saying - man is mortal; of course, women are not excluded! Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 5:09

There is no "hu" or "man" in human; as the Online Etymology Dictionary says, it's derived from the Latin adjective humanus, which is thought to come from the same root meaning "earth" that gives us the word humus (decomposed vegetable matter, a component of soil). (Similarly, there is no "his" in "history").

Etymology does't actually determine the current meaning of words, so this doesn't prove that "human" is gender-neutral today. (The Latin word homo, from the same "earth" root, developed in the Romance languages to words specifically denoting males, such as French homme, Spanish hombre).

The way we know "human" is gender-neutral in modern English is by observing people's usage.

To address your first point: people don't generally use the singular noun "Human" in the broad sense of humanity. For example, you can't replace man/Man in a sentence like "It is man's lot to die" with human/Human: *"It is human's lot to die" is ungrammatical. The usual expressions for "humanity" include humanity, mankind, man (singular) and men, humans, people (plural). They're all more or less interchangeable.

Here are some examples from differing translations of Ecclesiastes 12:13:

  • "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind." (New International Version)
  • "Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone's duty." (New Living Translation)
  • "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (English Standard Version)
  • "Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person." (New American Standard Bible)
  • "Fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity." (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • "Fear God and obey his commandments, for this is what it means to be human." (International Standard Version)

The use of man in contexts like this, aside from being less gender-neutral, often sounds old-fashioned or outright archaic.


A "human (being)" is a scientific word that defines us as being primates, homo sapiens and are descendents in the ape lineage.This is of course a assumption and is yet to be proven by anyone.Not even the father of evolution , Charles Darwin, could prove this. In fact he died admitting that the theory has many faults and remains as only a theory. This is in direct contrast to "man".Depending on your beliefs (religious,scientific etc) "Man" can be defined as a living being created in God's image with Gods attributes - intelligence, love, compassion etc).

In statutes a natural person is defined as a person (legal fiction) for a human being who has legal obligations, responsibilities, contracts etc.

  • 1
    "Human" is not just a scientific word. The scientific classification of our species is Homo sapiens. Modern taxonomy is based on the concept of clades (common descent), but this isn't particularly connected to binomial nomenclature, which was used by Linnaeus a century before Darwin. Also, what is the relevance of the definition of "person"?
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 1:04

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