What’s the difference between the suffixes -gram and -graph? Is there any difference? Even if they are completely synonymous, what’s the difference in etymology?

For example, pictograph vs. pictogram, cryptograph vs. cryptogram, etc.

4 Answers 4


These mean exactly the same thing, except when they don't. :)

From TheFreeDictionary.com

-gram suff. 1. Something written or drawn; a record: cardiogram.

-graph suff. 1. Something written or drawn: monograph.

This would seem to indicate that they are the same. And, in fact, if you look up pictograph and pictogram you see those words are synonyms. However, if you try to apply the logic to all words formed with the -gram/-graph suffix, you run into trouble:

ep·i·gram (p-grm) n. 1. A short, witty poem expressing a single thought or observation. 2. A concise, clever, often paradoxical statement. See Synonyms at saying. 3. Epigrammatic discourse or expression.

ep·i·graph (p-grf) n. 1. An inscription, as on a statue or building. 2. A motto or quotation, as at the beginning of a literary composition, setting forth a theme

So you really have to learn which is which on a case-by-case basis. Sorry.

BTW, the etymologies are different:

-graph[French -graphe, from Late Latin -graphus, from Greek -graphos, from graphein, to write; see gerbh- in Indo-European roots.]

-gram [Greek -gramma, from gramma, letter; see gerbh- in Indo-European roots. Sense 2, from telegram.]


This is a really interesting question. I hope a linguist jumps in with a solid answer, but here is what I can contribute.

If we look at Etymology Online, we can find -graphy as a suffix that means "to write or express by written characters."

Interestingly, if we look up -gram, we find that it is a suffix from telegram that has been abstracted. If we subsequently look up telegram, we find out that it was coined with an erroneous formation of Greek. The proper formation would have been telegrapheme. So if we look up -grapheme, we find that it is formed from -graph and -eme, or "unit."

Again I caution that I am not a linguist, but based on these etymologies, I'd suggest that -graph would refer to the content of the -gram, so a pictograph is what a pictogram contains. It seems like there would be very few instances where one would distinguish between these meanings, so they could probably be used interchangeably.

  • 2
    Sometimes it's the other way around - a telegraph is what creates a telegram. So a pictograph should be a camera/printer that produces a pictogram.
    – mgb
    May 31, 2011 at 20:38
  • Good point. Maybe a -gram is a specific instance of a -graph?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 1, 2011 at 0:30

-gram refers to a picture or record while -graphy refers to the process of producing a picture or record.

  • 1
    This question is broader than just pictures and photography. It's talking about the suffixes in general.
    – Luke_0
    Feb 14, 2013 at 22:04
  • 2
    It's also not about -gram and -graph, not -gram and -graphy.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 14, 2013 at 22:23

-gram and -graph mean the same thing: something written or recorded. An example for -gram is diagram, and an example for -graph is geography.

  • Are you saying anything that isn’t already covered by the other answers here?
    – tchrist
    Feb 25, 2013 at 15:01
  • 2
    This answer lacks substantiation in the form of facts, references, and specific expertise. Please edit to provide this supporting information. Also, note that if "-gram" and "-graph" mean the same thing the OP also asks what is the difference in etymology.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 25, 2013 at 15:46

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